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What Are the Symptoms of a PTSD Flashback?

PTSD flashback symptoms can be scary and take a person out of the present moment. Learn about the symptoms of PTSD flashbacks on HealthyPlace.

People who suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may also experience PTSD flashback symptoms. Flashback symptoms can be both emotional (psychological) and/or physical. Flashback symptoms tend to be individual and related to a person’s specific trauma experience.

What Are PTSD Flashbacks?

Flashbacks in PTSD are a form of vivid trauma re-experiencing. In other words, to people having a PTSD flashback, it can feel like they are experiencing the trauma all over again.

Because everyone’s trauma is different and everyone’s experience of trauma is different, there is no set list of flashback symptoms that are universally experienced. Nevertheless, flashbacks are very real and can be a huge problem for those who have them.

PTSD flashbacks may seem like watching a movie of what happened or they can be more immersive. If you know someone living with PTSD, you can ask what the PTSD flashback feels like for them.

Emotional flashback symptoms vary. The key to understanding emotional PTSD flashback symptoms is knowing that they are typically the emotions felt during the initial trauma. This could be fear, disgust, confusion, anxiety or rage, among others.

You might find that PTSD flashback symptoms are so immersive they make it hard to connect with reality, with your own body or what is going on in the present. This is known as dissociation. When dissociation symptoms are recurrent or persistent, one is diagnosed with PTSD with the additional specifier of “with dissociative symptoms,” according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5).

Physical PTSD Flashback Symptoms

You can re-experience any sense associated with the trauma. So that means you could feel the cold you felt on your skin or smell the soup that was cooking when the trauma happened. Often only some of the senses you felt during the trauma are relived. For example, a PTSD flashback symptom for one person might be visions of the trauma, while it might be sounds of the trauma for another and for a third it might be all the senses together.

Physical PTSD flashback symptoms can also include the physical reactions to the trauma such as a racing heart or rapid, loud breathing.

Managing PTSD Flashback Symptoms

Current experiences are the common trigger of PTSD flashback symptoms. For example, walking by a specific place or hearing a specific sound may set off a flashback. It is recommended that you begin to identify what triggers your individual flashback symptoms in order to further deal with them or avoid them altogether.

It’s important to know that while PTSD flashback symptoms can be terrifying, you can treat your PTSD and lessen, or even get rid of, the flashbacks.

For more, see Treatment of PTSD Flashbacks: Can Anything Help?

article references

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2018, January 23). What Are the Symptoms of a PTSD Flashback?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, July 21 from https://www.healthyplace.com/ptsd-and-stress-disorders/ptsd/what-are-the-symptoms-of-a-ptsd-flashback

Last Updated: June 5, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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