Can Trauma Cause Memory Loss?

Can Trauma Cause Memory Loss?

If you or someone you know has suffered trauma, you might be wondering can trauma cause memory loss? 

Yes, research does show that trauma can affect your memory. It also shows that trauma can affect the parts of the brain related to memory.

Memory loss is frightening. 

It might undermine your sense of trust in yourself. It might undermine your perceptions of things that are happening now or in the past. 

It might affect your ability ti work or to be there for family members.

Trauma-related memory loss is actually one of your brain's ways of coping. 

Temporary memory loss is a common effect of physical trauma. 

For example, many people who are in life-threatening car crashes often don't remember what caused the crash. 

This is the brain's way of protecting you.

However, these effects can last long after the event. 

Understanding how trauma affects memory is the first step to getting your life - and your memory - back. 

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Trauma & Memory Loss: What Happens in the Brain

When you experience trauma, it also affects your brain's ability to function and remember. 

In fact, research has shown that the parts of the brain most affected by trauma are also the parts of the brain most commonly associated with memory.

Your brain's hippocampus, amygdala, and prefrontal cortex are the areas of the brain that control memory. 

Trauma and depression can cause these portions of your brain to become affected by stress-related inflammation, shrinkage, and lack of regeneration.

This means that trauma doesn't just affect your memory in the short term: it can also cause long-term health problems and cognitive impairment.

A photo of the word memories written on a piece of paper

Trauma & Memory Loss: The Hippocampus

Your hippocampus is the major memory center of the brain. 

The left side of your hippocampus processes facts and recognition. 

This means it controls your ability to learn and remember facts.

For example, if you have trouble remembering facts you used to easily know, it could be your hippocampus.

Stress caused by trauma can cause this area to lose oxygen and shrink. 

This means that the amount of memory you have available will also shrink.

The right side of the hippocampus regulates spatial memory: spatial memory handles information about places, routes, and where you left your keys. 

This is the part of your brain that lets you navigate familiar streets, remember where you parked your car, or where your first date with your partner happened. 

If you're someone who loses things a lot, this could mean that your right hippocampus has been damaged. 

Trauma & Memory Loss: the Prefrontal Cortex

Another area of the brain that can be affected by trauma is the prefrontal cortex. 

Your brain's cortexes make up the functioning of your thoughts and subjective experiences. 

For example, if you find yourself remembering things differently than other people do, this could be damage to your cortexes.

The prefrontal cortex manages your working memory: meaning the things that you need to remember on a daily basis. 

These might be tasks at work you're supposed to complete or an event you're supposed to attend.

Trauma can affect your short-term memory also. 

This is the immediate memory: like remembering a phone number or directions from a store clerk.

If you're struggling with your working or short-term memory, it could be because of trauma-related damage to your prefrontal cortex. 

Trauma & Memory Loss: the Amygdala

Your amygdala regulates fear and fear-based memories. 

For example, a child who touches a hot stove stores that memory in their amygdala.

It teaches them that a behavior is dangerous by remembering the pain it caused.

This memory becomes imprinted by the rush of adrenaline produced by the traumatic event of pain. 

The amygdala stores the emotion of the event and can be triggered into reproducing it in subsequent traumatic events.

A damaged amygdala can lead to difficulty regulating emotions or to feeling that the trauma is still happening. 

When trauma occurs, the amygdala becomes hyperactive. 

It becomes more sensitive to stimuli and often places the person into a constant fright response. 

The effects of a traumatized amygdala are chronic stress, increased fear response, loss of sleep, and an inability to calm down. 

Healing your Memory

Unfortunately, studies show that the brain will not heal on its own. 

This means that the effects of trauma will only worsen when untreated. 

And, these emotional effects will become permanent physical ailments if left untreated for too long. 


Seeking treatment for trauma can be scary.

In fact, it can often stimulate your hyperactive amygdala which causes treatment to seem just as scary as the original trauma.

Take a deep breath: treatment is the best way to heal trauma, your memory, and your life.

Through counseling, trauma responses can be unlearned and you can become stronger than you were before this happened. 

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October 7th, 2022