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Intrusive symptoms can be described as those where the traumatic event "intrudes" into everyday life, and is re-experienced. These symptoms are often referred to as Flashbacks. The event is so real and so vivid it feels like the person is actually experiencing the trauma all over again. It is happening right in front of their eyes, and they can't tell what is reality and what is memory.

These flashbacks can range in severity from mild and brief to long and strong. They can involve both sensory perceptions and motor re-enactment too. During a flashback you may experience vivid images, strong smells, or noises. Some may even involve actually acting out a traumatic experience. Many times trauma survivors don't recognize that they are having a flashback nor remember afterwards what happened. It is not unusual for someone to faint or dissociate during a flashback and be unable to recall any part of the experience, even when a witness describes their behavior to them.

Sometimes after a flashback trauma survivors are aware of what triggered especially if someone else observes the behavior and recounts it to them, or if it is a recurring situation.

Sometimes these flashbacks occur as nightmares or bad dreams too. Some begin as nightmares and continue into the waking world as a flashback. There is some evidence to suggest that traumatic nightmares occur in the earlier, lighter stage of sleep than other dreams, and are more easily recalled upon waking. Traumatic dreams may however contain both accurate and inaccurate, literal and symbolic, information and should always be interpreted with caution.

Sometimes there is no actual reliving of the trauma itself, but instead survivors expereince a sudden painful emotional breakdown. These can involve crying, anger or fear for no apparant reason, and can occur repeatedly like flashbacks. Sometimes a flashback can involve just having feelings that are far more intense than a situation calls for but would have been appropriate in the original traumatic situation.

The important thing to remember about flashback experiences, especially those related to abuse and rape survivors, is that they can make you feel as afraid, as helpless, and as out of control as you were during the actual trauma, even if you don't consciously remember it. Others have the experience of losing their sense of where the flashback stops and reality begins.



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