In the presence of a perceived threat, the body (including the brain) instinctively organizes for survival — activating fight, flight, freeze, submit, or attach responses. Thinking about a threat while it’s happening can slow down the survival response, thus energy is diverted away from the frontal lobes — the part of the brain responsible for higher order cognitive processes, including creating coherent narratives of events. With the thinking part of the brain shut down, there is no way to integrate overwhelming sensory information into a coherent, meaningful account of the trauma. Instead, emotional reactions are split-off from sensory memories, muscle memories, perceptions, and thoughts also registered at the time of the traumatic event. Just as Janet once theorized, survival comes at a price: fragmented memories in search of integration haunt many trauma survivors long after danger has passed.
Dr. Lauren Kerr