“Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors”: How Understanding the Brain Can Help By Dawn McClelland, PHD, and Chris Gilyard, MA



“Several parts of the brain are important in understanding how the brain and body function during trauma. They include the forebrain (the prefrontal cortex); the limbic system, which is located in the center of the brain; and the brain stem.


When a person experiences a traumatic event, adrenalin rushes through the body and the memory is imprinted into the amygdala, which is part of the limbic system. The amygdala holds the emotional significance of the event (the intensity and impulse of emotion). For example, if you’re on a roller coaster, your sensory information is “fear, speed, stress, excitement, not life threatening.” The amygdala can read the emotional significance of the event: “it’s a ride, it’s fun, you are done in 3 minutes.” The amygdala stores the visual images of trauma as sensory fragments, which means the trauma memory is not stored like a story, but by how our five senses were experiencing the trauma at the time it was occurring. The memories are stored through fragments of visual images, smells, sounds, tastes, or touch.



Consequently, after trauma, the brain can easily be triggered by sensory input, reading normal circumstances as dangerous. For example, a red light is no longer a red light, now it’s a possible spark. A barbecue had been just a barbecue, but now it sounds like an explosion. The sensory fragments are misinterpreted and the brain loses its ability to discriminate between what is threatening and what is normal.



The rational part of our brain is the prefrontal cortex. This is the front part of our brain, where consciousness lives, processing and reasoning occur, and we make meaning of language. When a trauma occurs, people enter into a fight, flight, or freeze state, which can result in the prefrontal cortex shutting down. The brain becomes somewhat disorganized and overwhelmed because of the trauma, while the body goes into a survival mode and shuts down the higher reasoning and language structures of the brain. The result of the metabolic shutdown is a profound imprinted stress response.”




2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Laurie on January 9, 2018 at 4:30 pm

    This is a very good explanation of how the brain understands trauma. It gave me a clearer understanding. I would like to read more.

  2. There are so many lists inside this article. Memories are stored as fragmented sensual memory. I have aways looked for the story, the connection to the cognitive event.

    Also the higher reasoning and la gauge are offline.

    So the left side of our mind is compromised but the right, expansive, no thinking side is working perfectly. Healing starts over here. No good or bad, no right or wrong, no judgment, no ego, sort of like blissful.

    Also the description of a red light is not a red light sometimes.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: