Resource type: Article

Flashbacks

What are flashbacks?

Flashbacks are vivid and frightening memories.They can be intrusive, which means that they pop into your mind completely out of nowhere  (or are sometimes brought about by something that reminds you of a particular event, even if it was really a dream or hallucination) and can make you feel like you're reliving a particular experience. You may feel like you have little or no control over them.

Is it common to have flashbacks?

Patients often describe strange and disturbing hallucinations and dreams during their time in Intensive Care, which can leave them feeling confused and frightened. If you were involved in an accident that brought you into Intensive Care, you might have vivid memories of that. Also, you may have had strange beliefs about the staff and your family members, perhaps believing that they were out to harm you in some way. These things can tend to stay with you a little while.

Why am I having flashbacks?

Flashbacks are likely to be due to a combination of things like the nature or severity of your illness, such as an unfamiliar environment, the drugs we give patients to keep them sleepy and comfortable (sedation), any infection you might have had, amongst several other things.

How long am I likely to have them?

For some people, the memory of these strange experiences fades with time and they don't cause them any great problem.Others, though, may continue to have them over the weeks and months after they get home.If this is the case with you, speak to your GP about the possibility of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

What can I do?

Many people find it helpful to speak to family members and friends about their dreams, hallucinations, nightmares or flashbacks. It may be difficult to talk about this, as it can be upsetting, often difficult to put into words, might not make any sense at all, or you might worry that people think you're mad. You might also worry about upsetting other people as you may feel that they've been through enough. Remember that what you're going through is really common, and do try to speak about your experiences with your family and friends. 

Do I need help? 

Flashbacks, intrusive memories and distressing dreams that continue over 3 months may be symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Speak to your GP about your symptoms. He or she will refer you for treatment, if necessary.