Splintered memories or vivid landmarks? Qualities and organization of traumatic memories with and without PTSD

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Abstract

One hundred and eighty-one students answered a standardized questionnaire on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): 25 reported trauma(s) and indicated a pattern of after-effects that matched a PTSD symptom profile, whereas 88 indicated trauma(s) but no PTSD symptom profile. Both groups answered a questionnaire addressing the recollective quality, integration and coherence of the traumatic memory that currently affected them most. Participants with a PTSD symptom profile reported more vivid recollection of emotion and sensory impressions. They reported more observer perspective in the memory (seeing themselves ‘from the outside’), but no more fragmentation. They also agreed more with the statement that the trauma had become part of their identity, and perceived more thematic connections between the trauma and current events in their lives. The two groups showed different patterns of correlations which indicated different coping styles. Overall, the findings suggest that traumas form dysfunctional reference points for the organization of other personal memories in people with PTSD symptoms, leading to fluctuations between vivid intrusions and avoidance. Copyright © 2003 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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