What are flashbacks?

After a traumatic event like a burn injury, or witnessing it happening to someone else, many people experience intrusive thoughts or images. These intrusions can happen in a number of ways. Unwanted pictures or thoughts might suddenly pop into your mind. Or particular sights, sounds, or smells might remind you of what happened. You might also have nightmares.

“I feel a swell of emotion. I cry and experience the noises associated with the accident.”

Some people may feel they are re-experiencing the event, or part of it, as if it were happening all over again. When there is no sense of this being in the past, this is called a flashback. It can be very distressing because it often comes with sensations and/or emotions that the person felt at the time.

Although flashbacks are unpleasant, they are part of the body’s natural way of processing, learning from, or getting used to a very frightening event. You might feel like you have no control over what you are feeling, thinking, or experiencing, and you might notice that you have some very real physical symptoms associated with the flashbacks.

Re-experiencing a traumatic event as if it were happening all over again can make you feel very anxious. When you feel anxious, your body reacts with all of the physical symptoms of being in danger. During a flashback, your body responds as if it were in danger even though you are safe now. This is why you experience the physical symptoms associated with the traumatic event. You can learn more about how your body reacts here.