PTSD: Branded in the Brain

PTSD Branded in Brain

Imagine that you are in your car, waiting for the traffic signal to change. The next thing you know you are a witness to a horrific car accident that left many people injured and some to lose their life. How would you react? Most likely you would be shocked by this horrific event and traumatized emotionally. This happened to one of our patients, Miles.

How PTSD Affects Your Brain

After the experience, Miles developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a condition that develops in some individuals who are exposed to or involved in an extremely traumatic event that involves actual or threatened death or serious injury. The individual’s response to the traumatic event involves intense fear, helplessness, or horror. Those affected by PTSD continue to re-experience the event long afterward and avoid stimuli associated with the traumatic event. This then causes the unbalancing of the PFC-limbic system relationship and gives rise to a busy brain. Making the individual’s capacity to cope with these traumatic events absolutely overwhelming.

Like Miles, we may have difficulty processing the memories and emotional impact. No wonder. The shock and trauma of such an event are thankfully outside the realm of normal experiences. However, people like Miles who have PTSD continually re-experience the trauma as if the past were still alive in the present. Including having nightmares about the accident every night and triggered re-experiences of the accident whenever he saw a car similar to the one that caused the horrible accident.

We all need to feel safe. When we experience traumas, we lose that background feeling of safety. You’ve no doubt heard a lot about the fight-or-flight response, activated by protective circuitry that strives to keep us safe. Miles’s danger detector, his stress response alarm system, was on constant fight-or-flight high alert.

It’s important to remember in dangerous situations, the thinking brain can be turned off while the primitive limbic areas take over. Like Miles, most traumatized individuals have fight-or-flight reactions that continue long after the danger has passed. It is as if the traumatic past is acutely alive in the present. Their feeling of danger never abates. This is why I say that the emotional traumas in PTSD are “branded in the brain.”


On brain SPECT scans, the pattern of PTSD typically reveals over-activity in multiple areas of the brain, which is often referred to as the “diamond plus pattern.” This high activity tends to keep the brain on overdrive, increasing anxiety and irritability and interfering with sleep.

PTSD on SPECT – Before and After Treatment

Active View
BEFORE Treatment
Active View
AFTER Treatment

Brain SPECT Imaging Helps:

  • Demonstrate that symptoms and behaviors are not imaginary, thereby reducing emotional pain and stigma.
  • Families gain a better understanding of what is actually going on in the brain of their loved one.
  • Helps to target treatment specifically to your brain.

Amen Clinics knows that PTSD is a serious condition and we understand you may need professional help. Emotional traumas are surprisingly common, but help is available. Contact Amen Clinics today at 888-288-9834 or visit our website to schedule a visit.


  1. Amazingly vivid description of PTSD. I have a girlfriend who was sexually abused by her father from ages 5 to 11. She was never seriously hurt physically by this abuse, but I believe she had something branded in her brain, but is it still fear or what is it?

    Comment by Jon McGill — January 8, 2017 @ 12:21 PM

  2. Im in SHOCK at your comment about your g/f was sexually abused by her Dad from 5 to 11 and you stated she was “never” hurt physically by the abuse but something branded etc.I must say absolutely at 5 yrs old w/out a doubt she was hurt in fact im sure she was more than hurt ,What an un educated and careless statement to make.

    Comment by P.L — December 9, 2017 @ 4:52 PM

  3. My son had an incident happen to him when he was not even two and a half and it resulted in a tbi. I was the one who responded to the incident and still have ptsd, four years later. I will never be the same after what happened to my son and try my best to move forward with the wonderful boy he is today. However, I have a constant fear and relive he incident that occurred and hope some day it will be a distant memory.

    Comment by Cat — December 9, 2017 @ 4:54 PM

  4. SO what is the treatment?

    Comment by Suze — December 10, 2017 @ 12:55 PM

  5. He said, “never seriously hurt physically by this abuse.” He didn’t say never hurt. You should re-read his statement. I think your comment was inappropriate. He is reaching out for help to understand her emotional trauma. geez.

    Comment by Debra A. Lepore — December 12, 2017 @ 5:50 PM

  6. I am also interested in the treatment for PTSD. How is it treated? Does this treatment also apply to Bipolar and other such issues? There are many different brain function disorder’s, some which are mild but affects lives.

    Comment by Sandra Pray — December 15, 2017 @ 6:01 AM

  7. I have PTSD and work as a psych nurse. My job re traumatizes me. I have anxiety and insomnia. Should I “give up” and find a more peaceful type of employment? My body has started to suffet, as I hsve developed high Blood pressure.

    Comment by Mary Lou Miles — December 15, 2017 @ 8:20 AM

  8. I agree with Debra. Please try a little kindness.
    the sexual abuse may not have involved physically penetrating her or causing her any other physical injury, but sometimes the perps make the child do ‘things’ for them. However, the destroying of her innocense, the feelings of shame and the mental trauma is enough abuse to cause the lady mental issues all her life. she should have counselling by a good mental health therapist and/or psychiatrist.
    I applaud the person who is reaching out to her!

    Comment by Judy B — December 15, 2017 @ 3:19 PM

  9. I used EMDR for trauma and it helped a lot. Look for a therapist who deals in trauma
    And EMDR

    Comment by Susan Von Tobel — December 16, 2017 @ 10:36 AM

  10. EMDR is. Very effective treatment for PTSD that unhooks the ongoing danger-danger response to memories and retires them to the past instead of reliving them in the present.

    Comment by Cathryn harris — December 16, 2017 @ 1:25 PM

  11. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy

    Comment by Tracy — December 19, 2017 @ 2:17 PM

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