When Trauma Has No Visual Memories

Non declarative traumatic memories are stored in the body with no connection to a visual event. The body remembers and sends signals via emotions or sensations when triggered by non identifiable cues. These triggers can be a scent, color, texture, time of day/night, time of year, light, or anything that can be perceived by the body as a threat. Bodies are wired to be conditioned by all kinds of environments. These non declarative memories often cause emotional reactions and behaviors that are below the level of consciousness.


Zina Ortiz

12/5/20232 min read

EMDR Psychedelic Assisted Therapy Trauma Anxiety Denver Colorado
EMDR Psychedelic Assisted Therapy Trauma Anxiety Denver Colorado

In cases where trauma triggers are located in the body, but there are no visual memory-events to connect these triggers to, present a complex challenge, for both individuals and clinicians. Traumatic non declarative memory is related to PTSD. Chronic high levels of stress, or cortisol "dumps", creates memory deficits in the brain, it overall disrupts normal brain activity. This phenomenon, which is deeply rooted in the workings of the brain has been extensively studied in neuroscience. Clinical research sheds light on situations where trauma becomes deeply embedded in the circuitry and cannot be recalled consciously. Another source for non verbal, non declarative memory is the developmental stage in which the trauma occurred. Those stages where language isn't fully developed. Research on memory suggests that traumatic experiences may be stored unconsciously affecting behavior and emotional responses without awareness. That is why I repeat myself "awareness is the precursor for healing", however, the non declarative memory does not need to be cognitively recalled. Most people do not remember infant much less baby memories. One can be aware of the sensation, emotions or symptoms and be a source for successful treatment.

Treatment methods that rely on memory, like EMDR, are not effective for non declarative memory trauma. EMDR processes the visual memory, not the somatic one.

Additionally, the amygdala and hippocampus play roles in encoding and retrieving traumatic memories. When these processes are disrupted or inhibited conscious recall may be limited. Treatment approaches influenced by neuroscience often involve therapies that engage the body in the healing process. By understanding how memories are formed and retrieved clinicians customize interventions that align with the characteristics of trauma. This allows for an emphasis on embodied experiences, than those solely relying on cognitive signs.

The body keeps the score of every event experienced, these events do not all surface to conscious awareness, but they are stored as lessons. In our modern era we no longer have the need to remember where the lion's den is located. We do not have to rely so heavily on emotional responses to create the reaction of running, fighting, fawning, of freezing, yet our bodies have not evolved to the degree that meets our technology or culture.

At our practice, Elephant in the Room LLC, we treat trauma issues at their core, from the body. You do not have to remember the disturbing events. We utilize somatic practices like Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, Somatic Experiencing, and other somatic practices. Our clinicians are directly trained and supervised by me. Come see us!