The Body Remembers: The Physiology of Trauma


Hello everyone, in this article I’ll be discussing trauma and the effect it can have on a persons body. Often times when a person experiences trauma it can have an effect on the relationship a person has with their body and the way they understand and experience their physical sensations. This is just one of the many ways trauma can have an impact on a persons physical wellbeing but it is, none the less, what will be discussed here.

Dissociation is the word often used to describe when a person experiences their body as being distance of seperate from themselves, often times when people experience physical or sexual based traumas or when the person experiences repeated traumatic events the person begins to implement dissociation as a coping mechanism without knowing they are doing so.

Dissociation is a subconscious event that is often triggered when the person has a lot of stress or has an experience that reminds them of their trauma. When a person has a dissociative experience they may feel that their body is floating in space, or that it is not their own, they may also have a pins and needles sensation or not remember an amount of time in which they experienced the dissociative episode. The person experiencing the dissociation may also feel numb emotionally or have a foggy mind when they are trying to think and make decisions during this time. The person who experiences dissociation may also have an altered experiencing of time, they may feel that it is flying by, that it is not passing at all, or that it is an abstract concept that is not directly part of their lives.

The science behind a persons physical symptoms resulting after they experience a trauma may be a result of hyperarousal occuring in the nervous system (Rothschild, 2000). The autonomic nervous system plays a key role in regulating muscles, the heart, the circulatory system, the kidneys, lungs, bladder, intestines, bowels, and pupils. This connection to the nervous system explains why when a person has an experience that upsets them their body may react by the heart beating faster, they may get an upset stomach, they may get pale, they get wide eyed, and often feel a tight sensation in their muscles. Theye physical changes in the body prepare the person for ‘fight or flight’ a term used to describe when a person is in danger and either needs to defende themselves from the threat or run away to get away from the danger. A person who has experienced trauma has changes in their body physiology and may become upset and have a higher level of nervous system arousal for longer than most people would. This internal event can be very hard on the person and cause them to have more health issues in both the short term and long term.

Trauma leaves memories on your body and leaves an imprint of what has happened to you physically and how you reacted when the event happened, this imprint can lead to flash backs as your body may believe it is reliving an event that happened in the past when your senses are telling your brain that it is the same situation. This may occur when the person smells, sees, tastes, hears, or physically feels sensations similar to those experienced during the original trauma. These flash back experiences happen so that the body is prepared more quickly to choose a fight or flight response.


Rothschild, B. (2000). The body remembers: the psychophysiology of trauma and trauma treatment. New York: Norton.

Dissociation FAQ’s. (n.d.). Dissociation FAQ’s. Retrieved July 31, 2014, from