Retrieving Memories Lost to Dissociation Caused by Trauma
My memories lost to dissociation come from having experienced prolonged traumatic abuses as a child. I developed the protective reflex of dissociation at an early age. Dissociation was my response to frightening, harmful, and unpredictable environments. I learned to tune out and shut down mentally while still being able to respond to my surroundings to function in the moment. I don't know this because I remember it. I know this because other people hold memories for me. Here is how I began reclaiming my memories lost to trauma-related dissociation.
Memories Lost to Trauma-Related Dissociation Can Be Bad or Good
It's important to stress that I wasn't looking to retrieve any repressed memories of my past. My memory of my youth and teens has never been stellar. For a long time, I chalked this up to life in general. However, as my posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnosis and treatment led to healing, I realized that there was simply a great deal of my past lost to the fog of dissociation.
At the time I was diagnosed, my grandmother was still alive. She was the first person I approached to hear stories about my childhood. She told me about trips we took, how I went fishing with my grandfather, and car rides on Sundays to pick flowers. Occasionally, these stories would spark a memory hidden inside me. They weren't frightening memories. I treasure these flickers. However, they were from a time where my weeks were full of unpleasantness. Weekends were with my grandparents. I don't believe I could feel safe enough overall to retain the happy memories.
With the evolution of Facebook, I found myself encountering many faces from the past. Some friends I remembered, others I recognized on some level, but not as having interacted with them. However, it was clear that they all remembered doing things with me. I won't lie, this is a frustrating and awkward feeling. I decided I would ask people what they remembered most about me. I didn't need to tell them that I was asking because I had no recollection of them. I appeared to be reminiscing, albeit in a lopsided manner.
Some Friends Hold the Key to Memories Lost to Dissociation Due to Trauma
Within the past year, I have mustered up the courage to confess my limited recall to some of my former companions. Specifically, those who have become familiar with my past trauma. I began to realize that they were a part of my life when I was, once again, silently experiencing abuse. I was functioning at a high level of stress. I was flipping in and out of dissociative states frequently. Hearing stories about myself from that time in life does pull back memories for me. In many ways, I am reuniting with my past through being open and honest with others about my memory.
If you suspect you are missing chunks of your past, it is safest to discuss this with a therapist before going on an all-out mission to track down your history. Despite living in recovery, I know that my past can come up and bite me from behind when I least expect it. However, done in a safe and supported manner, seeking out your memories lost to dissociation through the recall of others is gratifying.
Hollowood, T. (2017, July 17). Retrieving Memories Lost to Dissociation Caused by Trauma, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, June 1 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/traumaptsdblog/2017/07/complex-ptsd-dissociation-and-reclaiming-lost-memories
Author: Tia Hollowood
hello. I know I'm late, hehe. But I'm struggling with remembering my past. And if I do recall a memory, I think I'm lying to myself. Like I'm making it up. I don't trust my memories. How do I tell the difference between real and fake? How do I begin to trust myself and my memories? I want "closure" but it seems so far away and it feels like there's so many obstacles. I just want to remember. I want to feel ok again.
How did you get your full memory back?
I think it is super important to become one with your past eventually.
I was sadistically abused, tortured and saw horrible things happen other children as well, I dissociated everything. I know how hard it can be to look your childhood feelings in the eyes. Forever here is where so many unconscious beliefs, part of your emotions and so much healing lies.
It is not an easy task. First you have to be in a really stable place in life, so you can take on such a challenge. Then you have to work through every big emotion that comes up, like guilt, helplessness, fear...
I'm doing it and although I recommend caution for obvious reasons, if done with self love and support, I believe it can help you solve all the problems that you cannot find solutions for for years now. Maybe a persistent depression or not knowing what you want, or maybe guilt or pain. It can all be solved through really becoming one again.
However* not forever
I know retrieving memory that has brought trauma to me or bad or good can happen to me from it I would still want it back I'm trying to find a way to get my memories back from when I was a child and when I was a teen so I can move forward with my life I feel like a big hole and a big part of me is missing because I do not have no recollection of when I was younger or when I was a teenager I have a few bits and pieces but I don't know what is real and I don't know what is not do you know anyone who could help me recover my memory?
I’m not 100% sure that I have lost memories but I suspect that I do. As far as I know (not that I can remember a whole lot, it feels kind of blurred), I don’t think I was ever physically or sexually abused as a child but I know that I was psychologically abused. Can psychological trauma cause dissociation too? I remember often pretending in my head that I was in this imaginary world that was exactly like this one but I was much more popular, pretty and I wasn’t feeling worthless in that world. I’m definitely a daydreamer but I don’t know if that’s connected or not.
How do you get help with forgoten memories that choose to re-evolve when it decides to. I want to seek these memories and conquer them instead of the other way around.
Interesting question. I asked one of my first therapists a similar question. She responded by asking me why on earth I would want to remember something so horrible that I dissociated during it. I did not appreciate her answer at the time, but I do now. In response to your question, I don't know, but whatever you decide please don't try to deal with hidden memories unless you have support people with you in case you bump into an extra ugly one. Those buggers are nasty!
Sorry you are experiencing this and hope the best for you.
Well I am.lucky---I recall everything like the beatings verbal abuse and constant tension so ,much for memory
Hi Elliot. I have a similar experience. I am certainly able to recall many painful memories. Sometimes I wonder what l have blocked given what I remember. My brain did its best at the time.
Interesting read Tia. I however,have the opposite problem. That is to say that I have a memory like an elephant and remember even the most minute details. And certain things will happen,bringing back painful memories that bite me in the ass when least expected. Thanks for this...a great read
Teena, I hear you! Those ninja memories that spring up and catch us right in the feels are nasty. One of my ongoing therapy goals is to be able to process the ugly recollections without revisiting the emotions attached to them. Thank you for sharing your experience with these unwelcome memories.
Much appreciated Tia. I'm working on all of this...it's a life-long battle but can get better with time.