The psychobiology of traumatic memory:  Clinical implications of neuro imaging studies


Whereas most patients with PTSD construct a narrative of their trauma over time, it is a characteristic of PTSD that sensory elements of the trauma itself continue to intrude as flashbacks and nightmares, altered states of consciousness in which the trauma is relived, unintegrated with an overall sense of self. Because traumatic memories are so fragmented, it seems reasonable to postulate that extreme emotional arousal leads to failure of the central nervous system (CNS) to synthesize the sensations related to the trauma into an integrated whole. Earlier models for a biological substrate of these phenomena have become rapidly outdated with the availability of new information derived from neuroimaging studies of patients with PTSD. The emerging body of knowledge from these studies has stimulated a gradual shift in emphasis away from the neurochemicals involved in the organisms' response to overwhelming threat to a focus on the neuronal filters concerned in the interpretation of sensory information: the interactions between the various parts of the CNS that process and interpret the meaning of incoming information, such as the amygdala, hippocampus, corpus callosum, anterior cingulte, and prefrontal cortex.






Bessel van der Kolk
Jennifer A. Burbridge
Joji Suzuki

Original Work Citation

van der Kolk, B. A., Burbridge, J. A., & Suzuki, J. (1997, June). The psychobiology of traumatic memory: Clinical implications of neuro imaging studies. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 821, 99-113. doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.1997.tb48272.x



“The psychobiology of traumatic memory:  Clinical implications of neuro imaging studies,” Francine Shapiro Library, accessed September 19, 2021,

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