The Downward Spiral of Flashbacks & Dissociative Episodes (as published in The Friday Edition of HeartBalm Healing at

Recently, a very painful and triggering event dropped me into a deep hole of flashbacks and dissociation. Over the next few months, a series of other events threw me into more flashbacks, deep dissociative states, and depression. Like being tossed and rolled endlessly in the raging waves and surf of a stormy, violent sea you can never find a quick escape because you are never sure which way is up or down. And, even in the moments when you think you have found the way up and out, you are slammed again by another ferocious breaker that leaves you stunned and pushes you back down into the deep, dark abyss.

Having gone through this many times it seems like it would be an easy thing to know the landscape and the road back out of a flashback. But like being born anew – the understanding of reality, knowledge, reason, and essential functioning are wiped clean in these states. Amnesia-like experiences are common here so believing that you can recreate an old route back to safety and the land of the living is a pipe dream. Coming back to what you knew previously as “your life” is a hellscape of roiling, crashing waves – taking you under – spinning you around over and over again. It is a waiting game while being tossed around like a rag doll.

The traumatic event itself, however horrendous, had a beginning, a middle, and an end, but I now saw that flashbacks could be even worse. You never know when you will be assaulted by them again and you have no way of telling when they will stop.

_Bessel van der Kolk, “The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma”

When I finally found an opening to come back I found myself numb, my eyes unable to focus, having trouble thinking and breathing; almost feeling like I was being suffocated. I was deep in a dissociative state. But even there while my worldview seemed familiar, my mindset was of an alien looking out through my own eyes. There was some knowledge that I was myself but everything was skewed in some way that made the world seem surreal, darkened, unsafe, and unnavigable. I felt like a zombie – a dead woman walking; functioning as best as I could to the outside world but completely shattered and confused within – held together in a deep freeze of numb detachment.

There are so many who know this feeling, and I am sorry for it. When complex trauma takes hold life becomes a downward spiral to other worlds, other times and spaces, the inability to discern up from down, other dissociative and emotionally adverse conditions take hold, and reaching for harmful remedies and actions to try to find wholeness overtake all else. Additionally, during these times we often try to employ superhuman efforts and abilities created to continue normal functioning, at a job or in a relationship, for example, and to just simply survive another day. But as we are not superhuman these over-achieving actions and efforts, while in a state of being mentally and physically depleted and compromised takes a toll, and comes at a high price to mind, body, and soul. Sometimes the only reason to keep trying for the surface is simply the habituated and mere fact that the body is still breathing, and the strained hope that the storm clouds will part and bring light back into our world again, and refocus our eyes and senses – so we keep trying.

Every day takes figuring out all over again how to f***ing live.

_Calamity Jane, the HBO series “Deadwood”

Having experienced flashbacks, dissociation, and the varied states of Cptsd, I am so much more aware of these episodes, in hindsight. What was enlightening about these recent consecutive occurrences and the fallout, especially physically for me, was the added stressors and triggers in my life, along with the holiday season. These all happened in close proximity to the initial cataclysmic occurrence and seemed to create a slow but steady downward spiral. Each flashback, dissociation, and fallout of emotional and physical repercussions had its own unpredictability, order of events, unfolding timeline, and lingering effects of being malevolent and stealthy in how it hijacked me each time. It seemed that this domino effect of triggers, and my continued state from one flashback to another, and overlapping dissociation was made easier by already being hampered by the initial flashback. Since I was not fully out of the initial episode I was already sitting in a primed and conditioned state to succumb to additional occurrences of post-traumatic stress.

To read more about CPTSD please see my article at HeartBalm titled, “Courage, Self Love, and CPTSD.”

I cannot say for sure if these more recent stressful events would have pushed me or triggered me into a full-blown flashback if I was in a more healthy and balanced space and time in my life. I do believe, however, that the initial event began the downward spiral, and due also to its severity and strength, made it much easier for me to slide back into traumatic responses due to stressful and triggering events. Even after the events, thinking that I was feeling more stable and grounded there was a moment, out of the blue, when I felt like I had just woken up from being somewhere else. In that moment, I sadly realized I had still been in a dissociative state. Like the movie “Inception,” there are levels of reality where you can become lost in thinking and believing you are back in reality when in fact you are not even close. It is a surreal feeling to be awake, yet wake again to the moment and wonder where you have been. Wasn’t I experiencing reality before – where was I when I thought reality was happening – there is little to recall or remember. It is in the period of coming out of dissociative states that you may begin to feel back to normal – only to find yourself awakening to the moment and realizing that you haven’t been fully present. It is maddening, frustrating, and unsettling to realize how fractured you really are, and that you are never quite assured that you are whole, grounded, and awake in the present moment. It is another traumatic event and another breach of trust by your own mind and body that you must face, find compassion for, and contend with.

The long-term damage, hijacking, and slow demise of mind and body by abusers, narcissistic others, and their enablers is total, and for most goes unpunished. For those with Cptsd it is a never-ending walk through life of trauma management, physical and mental triage and maintenance, and sifting through the shattered remains of the past unraveling in the present to find hope, love, and meaning – as the only remedy and reason to get up again and continue on.

We have learned that trauma is not just an event that took place sometime in the past; it is also the imprint left by that experience on mind, brain, and body. This imprint has ongoing consequences for how the human organism manages to survive in the present. Trauma results in a fundamental reorganization of the way mind and brain manage perceptions. It changes not only how we think and what we think about, but also our very capacity to think.

_Bessel van der Kolk, “The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma”

When the body is already in a state of fight/flight it takes a long time to bring it back into balance, especially for women with the added challenges of a more complex endocrine system. The endocrine system does everything in its power to address the threats perceived and experienced. Yet, with adrenaline and cortisol taking over and attempting to right the sinking ship it can get stuck in this response and take a long time to come back to homeostasis. The fallout from this is widespread – affecting our minds, body, and soul. I will be digging deeper into these areas, the physical repercussions of fight/flight, and how our endocrine system works to support us during times of trauma, perceived threats, triggers, and flashbacks in upcoming editions.

To the outside world, and even to my friends and family I may look put together, and without fractures yet if you stand back and look at the inhibited and truncated arc of my life you can see the profound impact of complex trauma, and the unrelenting onslaught and the broad swath of destruction it has wreaked on my mind, body, and soul, and my life. Those of us that live with Cptsd work hard and creatively to make ourselves and our lives work and look presentable. It is all we can do. I work hard to understand what happened, to understand the world itself, and how it all works, how to heal, to love. I work diligently to release old wounds and transmute and integrate all that is arising and unraveling from the multi-layered onion that is my life as the unwitting victim of childhood abuse and neglect, and the ongoing abuses that continue into adulthood.

Inadvertently, and another subject I will dive into more in a future edition is that the ride of Cptsd is also a course in subconscious manifesting and the reason why things, conditions, and events continue to recur. The energy patterns of trauma stored so long ago, hidden, and pushed deep down so as to protect, as best as can be achieved, are in fact still active and holding sway in the energetic patterns of present-day life, as triggers and new abuses are encountered. Reality was the bedrock of time in which trauma was experienced and from which the mind tries to make sense of this thing called life. The cognitive dissonance and sheer nonsensical nature of life as a child in an abusive and neglectful household is mind-, body-, and soul-altering. The word complex in complex trauma and complex post-traumatic stress disorder is an understatement but denotes the conditions of living life that are constantly unknowable, chaotic, fraught with terror, unreliable, and uncertain in nature.

Unlike other forms of psychological disorders, the core issue in trauma is reality.

_Bessel van der Kolk, “The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma”

For those of us that live in and out of the deep crevasses and contrasts of life, we can find the tiny gems, the bright lights in the darkness, and the love that never leaves us and finds us even in the deepest depths of the abyss. Somehow, somewhere light and love is always there in a pet, loved one, or cherished friend. I want to acknowledge the wonderful friends I have found and who have found me over the years. Those special few that have never questioned my sporadic existence, nor judged me for my inner turmoil, my stints of elusive departures and long silences at times, my opinionated and sometimes aggressive stance towards injustices, especially as they relate to women and children, nor have they stood in hope or expectation that I be any different than who I am. My friends have accepted me as is and loved me when I had little love for myself. They are the bright stars in my sky – the lights that guide me home when I am lost and walking dead amongst the masses of this world. Their love is what gives me the strength to keep believing in myself, and strengthens my belief in love, friendship, and life rather than crumbling to the hatred that bore and raised me. They breathe love and acceptance into me so that I can write to help others understand; to see themselves as loved, loveable, and loving beings on this planet, and worthy of living a blessed life even as they struggle to heal and become more of who they are along the way because, in the end, you are never alone!

When I stand back and look at my life so far, it is evident that the journey truly is the destination, and how you buckle yourself in while on the ride, and who sits next to you – is how you make this journey a life.

For other helpful articles, tools, and topics visit the HeartBalm Archives, and for healing-guided meditations please visit the HeartBalm Meditation Toolbox on the home page. To subscribe or to find out more information go to the HeartBalm website.

Guest Post Disclaimer: Any and all information shared in this guest blog post is intended for educational and informational purposes only. Nothing in this blog post, nor any content on, is a supplement for or supersedes the relationship and direction of your medical or mental health providers. Thoughts, ideas, or opinions expressed by the writer of this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of CPTSD Foundation. For more information, see our Privacy Policy and Full Disclaimer.


[contact-form][contact-field label=”Name” type=”name” required=”true” /][contact-field label=”Email” type=”email” required=”true” /][contact-field label=”Website” type=”url” /][contact-field label=”Message” type=”textarea” /][/contact-form]