#4 ACoAs & DISSOCIATION – Memory

PREVIOUS : Dissociation – Emotions

SITEs : “How Human Memory Works

Forgotten Memories of Traumatic Events Get Some Backing from Brain-Imaging Studies

MEMORIES  = Different types are stored across different inter-connected brain regions ⬇️
▫️Explicit ones are about events that happened to you (episodic), as well as general facts & information (semantic).
▫️Implicit ones don’t require deliberate recall of past events or info (learned motor skills), & we can access them without even trying

Short-term working memories rely most heavily on the prefrontal cortex, carried to the brain’s structural core where they’re compared with existing ones & then stored in long-term memory.
This process occurs in an instant, but is not always perfect, because incoming information races from neuron to neuron. If a particular route is not used often, the transmission may be incomplete, leading to either a faulty memory or none at all.

Normal memories are a combination of :
Narrative context or story of what’s happening (RED : I’m walking to grandmother’s house with a basket of cupcakes)

Sensory – (I can see the trees & smell the flowers in the woods, feel the red cape on my back…)

Emotional – (I’m a little worried about rumors of the big, bad wolf in the forest)

When heavily traumatized, especially as children, our memories get separated into one or more these 3 components. It’s suggested that the brain does this to keep functioning & not ‘crash’ or be physically injured.
And in Complex Trauma, barriers are formed between parts of Self, to keep excruciating memories away from daily functioning parts.

Dissociation & MEMORY
Dissociation is mainly about repressed or forgotten memories. The brain can hide those that are particularly terrifying from trauma. This is long or short-term protection when the emotional pain of events are too intense. But in the long run, suppressed memories can create serious mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, PTSD & dissociative disorders (DD) (More….)

The brain is designed to memorize & retain info it considers important for our survival & for adapting to our environment.
IF it doesn’t store info at all or dissociates from an event, it’s the mind’s hardwired protection, so don’t assume there’s something wrong with your mental ability.
★ In fact – it’s an adaptive mechanism we should respect & value. (POSTS: “INFO : How the Brain Learns“)

The brain stores the parts of experiences it considers vital, & “forgets” the rest. With extreme stress, such memories are suppressed, because the brain :
♦︎ is temporarily out of power & can’t encode anything more
♦︎ considers that the memories may jeopardize survival, so stores them in a different place, or
♦︎ is working to keep the person afloat, so ‘assumes’ it’s unnecessary to store the memory in an accessible way.

EXP re. memory components: If Little Red Riding Hood (OR any ACoA) goes to therapy, she (he) might say :

Option 1. “I keep picturing a wolf in the woods, but that doesn’t make sense, not like a real memory. Did that even happen?”
Option 2. Or – she smells tree & flower scents when not in the forest, & that makes her feel uneasy (or crazy)

Option 3. Or – just feels anxiety / panic, but doesn’t know why
Option 4. Or – she can have all 3 symptoms & not know they’re all about one experience (Modified from “Memory Fragments & Reassociation“)

♦︎ She (he) / you did encounter the wolf (bad parents, spouses, bosses….) & survived, but the traumatic events have remained as fragmented memories – making the person doubt themself.
☁︎ The brain doesn’t register experiences as ‘real’ unless they include all 3 memory-parts, & will only reconnect them when we feels ‘safe’ enough.

POSITIVE : Fortunately this is do-able, by talking to safe knowledgable people about our experiences of ‘possible’ verbal & physical attacks. Pairing a feeling state with either a sensory memory or the narrative (the knowing of what happened) is the first proof the event was REAL.

Even when dissociation is a symptom of trauma (but not as mental illness), it can also be considered a skill. Not remembering horrible experiences has the advantage of allowing a person to see things from fresh perspectives, making room for the capacity to be surprised, & leaving mental space for learning new skills.

NEXT : Dissociation – Styles

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