Trauma Affects Your Brain But PTSD Can Be Healed

March 6, 2014 Michele Rosenthal

How trauma affects your brain is a HOT topic in the posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) world. Especially recently as neuroplasticity (the ability of your brain to change) becomes even more recognized and accepted as a law of brain function. Now, practitioners around the globe are understanding that while trauma can change your brain, other experiences can change it again.

In fact, one of the most exciting implications of neuroscience in the past decade is that your brain is always changing in response to experience. Healing, then, becomes more imminently possible than ever. Why? Because you can create experiences that help your brain change daily.

Learning About Your Brain and Trauma

Trauma affects your brain, but healing PTSD is more likely than ever. Learn how trauma affects the brain and how neuroplasticity helps you recover. Read this.There’s one thing you can count on with trauma and that’s CHANGE. Especially if you’ve developed PTSD, the changes that trauma causes have a huge effect on your life (PTSD Symptoms And Signs Of PTSD). Many people think that trauma changes you just on an emotional level. In fact, the changes go all the way down to every tiny cell in your body. Most importantly, trauma can impact your brain in ways that change who you are and how you live.

Trauma and the Brain Fact #1

Your brain has three different levels, all related to different types and areas of functioning. Trauma can affect them all and cause dysregulation in your overall functioning that creates the symptoms of posttraumatic stress you experience every day. Many of the changes can be reversed. The most difficult to reverse alterations occur in the area of your “reptilian” brain - the part of your brain with the fewest neurons, which means it learns really, really slowly. This is the area tied to your instincts and survival responses.

Trauma and the Brain Fact #2

There are many structures in your brain that engage during a traumatic moment, but there are 4 that play critical roles when you’re in survival mode:

  1. Brain stem
  2. Amygdala
  3. Hippocampus
  4. Pre-frontal cortex

How these 4 structures interact and how they function individually affect how you feel during and after trauma. When they over- or under-function they change how you think, process information, sleep and even behave.

Trauma and the Brain Fact #3

Your body and mind are designed to fluctuate between response and repair. Due to the increase or decrease in several chemicals that send messages to different systems, your body knows to gear up to fight/flee/freeze or rest and restore. After trauma, however, some of these chemicals can remain high. For example, the stress hormone, cortisol. When this powerful stress response is pegged at the high end of its range, it causes far-reaching effects on your brain, including the inability to lay down a new memory, or even access an old one. The presence of cortisol also lessens how effectively brain cells communicate by interfering with the function of neurotransmitters, the way those cells send messages.

The more you know about PTSD and your brain, the more you reclaim control, which is a major element of how we heal PTSD.

Michele is the author of Your Life After Trauma: Powerful Practices to Reclaim Your Identity. Connect with her on Google+, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and her website,

APA Reference
Rosenthal, M. (2014, March 6). Trauma Affects Your Brain But PTSD Can Be Healed, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Author: Michele Rosenthal

April, 24 2015 at 3:54 am

I'm still healing from trauma of living with a narcissist , 3 years on I'm only just thinking a bit clearer. And have often asked myself will I ever be like I used to before ? I compare my change in personality as to someone who has had s stroke as I've seen. How they are no longer the Same person. And that's how I feel.!

Cindy Hamilton
August, 14 2014 at 10:28 pm

I have gone through brain surgery to try and stop a lifelong seizure disorder and my life is all together different as my depression is as bad as it could possibly be,I take a medicine used to treat dementia because I can't remember things,I deal with stress almost every day and this causes serious issues with my depression that increases my suicidal thoughts that just go racing and I have crazy thoughts go through my mind and I ask myself "why live this hellish life?" I have found myself trying to find something in my life to help keep me from feeling this way and it is really hard !!! A lot of my trouble is coming from the 9th and 15th of August. My 27th wedding anniversary was on the 9th and I lost my husband on the 15th and it has taken a toll on me.

Susan Savage
June, 10 2014 at 1:36 pm

This information is very helpful for me. I have experienced so much trauma in my lifetime. Most recently being kidnapped and raped July 20th, 2013. I am also going to be starting on my Bachelors of Science degree in Psychology. I have studied mental health for 4 and a half years and find the brain a very intriguing part of the body.

Anne Dilorenzo
March, 18 2014 at 11:49 am

After the death of siblings etc I wondered if I had PTSD as I am an LCSW. It is easy to think "well I am older". Well I am adjusting to retirement....or worry "my mother had cognitive impaitment beginning in her late 70's (I'm 67). My life has changed, everything is more difficult and overwhelming. If this webinar will be recorded, is there a way I can access it afterward?
PS: Although there were many deaths, 5 months after my younger sister died of cancer my "kid" brother whom I was very close to was killed in an accident. That's when I had many different symptoms which you mention...more than grief and depression. My brain is so different.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Michele Rosenthal
March, 18 2014 at 11:52 am

@Anne -- So many deaths would be tough to deal with, regardless of age or professional training. You are human after all. :)

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