(Excerpt from The Endless Journey Home by Specialist Joe Collins)
In many cases, when a person is exposed to a traumatic event, they will often suppress the memory of it. It is a survival mechanism built into us to help us continue to function and survive after being exposed to the trauma. The best way to describe what happens and how it relates to PTSD is by using an analogy.
The brain works in similar ways to store memories as a computer does by burning information into a CD. When a traumatic event happens, this leaves a deeper impression in your memory (or a deep groove like in the CD). If you are in a war zone, you adapt after the traumatic event happens even though this deep impression or groove in the CD (so to speak) has already been burned in. You do this to survive. But you still have to “drive” and function. Still “burning information making new memories” after the traumatic event has passed. Depending on the level of trauma, it may start to become difficult to even remember the event.
Once the soldier has returned home, there is a good chance they will have suppressed the traumatic memory due to the fact that it is too painful for them to confront. So, they will continue to live life as though nothing happened. Eventually something (a noise, something they see or smell or touch) will trigger (bring back) parts of that memory.
Like the “burning” of a CD, the traumatic memory would leave a deep groove. Once a soldier is triggered, it brings him/her back to that groove in the memory and it is like hearing a CD stuck on “skip”. It just keeps playing over and over because it is stuck in that groove. This can often be the beginning of PTSD or what starts causing some of the previously mentioned symptoms.