The Effects of Trauma on the Brain | Mental Health Blog
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The Effects of Trauma on the Brain

effects of trauma on the brain

The Effects of Trauma on the Brain

People often talk about how the effects of childhood trauma can carry over into adulthood, and it is true.

Traumatic events and experiences can have a lasting impact on people. For some people, effects will include the development of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms that can vary in severity and sometimes hinder their lives, especially if they never receive formal PTSD treatment. For others, trauma can lead to more subtle changes in their behavior, actions, or thinking. Either way, trauma can impact people in more ways than they may realize.

Changes in the Brain After Trauma

What many people do not know is that there could be more going on below the surface. As a mental health care facility, we know that not only can traumatic events impact your behavior, but the brain changes after trauma as well. Depending on the traumatic event as well as the individual, the effects of emotional trauma on the brain can range from minor to dramatic. Trauma changes brain chemistry as well as structure, and these effects can start to impact normal functioning. Specifically, the effects of trauma on the brain seem to impact the amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex the most.

Changes in the Amygdala from Trauma

The amygdala is the emotional response center of the brain that helps people perceive and control their emotions. It also plays a role in emotional memories and fear response. When someone experiences a traumatic event and is showing signs of PTSD, their amygdala often becomes more active than it normally would. Studies have continuously found that the amygdala of someone with PTSD has increased function in response to stimuli that remind them of their trauma or other fear-related stimuli.1 Not surprisingly, people with PTSD often have greater fear responses and this research suggests that it may be a result of these changes in the amygdala.

Changes in the Hippocampus from Trauma

The hippocampus is associated primarily with memory and learning. Brain scans have shown that the hippocampus has decreased function in people with PTSD when they are exposed to something that reminds them of trauma.1 Not only is the function of the hippocampus affected by trauma, but also the structure may change as well depending on how severely the person has been affected by their trauma. Those with PTSD were found to have significantly smaller hippocampi than those who were exposed to trauma but not experiencing PTSD.2 In this case, the effects of PTSD on the brain are more severe than trauma exposure alone.

Changes in the Prefrontal Cortex from Trauma

The effects of trauma on the brain also extend to the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that is responsible for executive functioning or higher-level thinking and reasoning. People with PTSD have been found to have decreased function and activation of the prefrontal cortex when exposed to traumatic reminders.1 This may account for any irrational fears that trauma victims have trouble overcoming.

Whether subtle or significant, trauma changes the brain in several ways and can lead to lasting negative effects. The best way to overcome these challenges is to find a trauma treatment center that can help address these issues and possibly reverse some of these effects.

At Banyan Mental Health, we help people better manage their mental health so that they can start moving forward with their lives once more. Stop letting your mental health hinder your life or don’t stand by as your loved one suffers.

To get more information on our various programs and how we may be able to help, call us today at 888-280-4763.


  1. NCBI - Traumatic stress: effects on the brain
  2. NCBI - Smaller Hippocampal Volume in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Multisite ENIGMA-PGC Study: Subcortical Volumetry Results From Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Consortia

Alyssa is Banyan’s Director of Digital Marketing & Technology. After overcoming her own struggles with addiction, she began working in the treatment field in 2012. She graduated from Palm Beach State College in 2016 with additional education in Salesforce University programs. A part of the Banyan team since 2016, Alyssa brings over 5 years of experience in the addiction treatment field.

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