Understanding Delayed Onset of PTSD

Imagine going about your day when suddenly, a familiar smell or a distant sound triggers a memory from years ago—a stark reminder of a traumatic event. This is how PTSD often presents itself unexpectedly, even after a lengthy period of seeming normalcy.

familiar smell trigger memory - PTSD

The Brain’s Intricate Response

Traumatic memories

Traumatic memories can lie dormant due to the brain’s protective mechanisms. The hippocampus, amygdala, and the prefrontal cortex—the key brain areas involved in memory and emotional response—can disrupt the processing of these memories. High stress levels during a traumatic event can impair the hippocampus, making memory storage inefficient.

Memories aren’t always cataloged neatly. They can resurface abruptly when a sensory input unlocks them, much like a key to a long-closed door. This can happen despite years of suppression, because the memories were never fully processed, perhaps due to the person being too young or overwhelmed at the time.

Why Time Doesn’t Always Heal

PTSD doesn’t heed time. Symptomatic triggers can activate the disorder years after the initial event. This might be because the brain had, at the time, decided to ‘save’ the full brunt of processing for a later stage when the individual is better equipped to handle it.

PTSD - Symptomatic triggers

Navigating Through Unseen Triggers

Understanding that PTSD triggers can arrive without warning is crucial. Therapy can be a valuable guide through this complex condition. Cognitive-behavioral therapy and EMDR are effective tools that help individuals make sense of their past and separate old trauma from their present lives.

If you’re facing these late-emerging challenges, know that therapy can help you address and manage them. Healing from PTSD is a gradual process, with professional guidance lighting the path forward.

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Animo Sano Psychiatry is open for patients in North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and New York. If you’d like to schedule an appointment, please contact us.

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