What Is a PTSD Flashback?

PTSD flashbacks can be very frightening re-experiencings of trauma. Learn what a PTSD flashback is and how long one lasts on HealthyPlace.

People who have posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may experience flashbacks. Posttraumatic stress disorder flashbacks are a way of re-experiencing the trauma that caused the PTSD. Flashbacks look different for different people. Flashbacks in PTSD are related to other re-experiencing types like nightmares and intrusive thoughts about the traumatic event.

Definition of a PTSD Flashback

According to, in psychiatry, a PTSD flashback would be defined as:

recurrent and abnormally vivid recollection of a traumatic experience, as a battle, sometimes accompanied by hallucinations.

PTSD Flashback Description

When people experience PTSD flashbacks, they typically feel they are living through the trauma again in the present moment. The feelings the person had during the traumatic event can occur again during a flashback. Flashbacks can feel so real that it may seem like the perpetrator is actually, physically in the room. Because flashbacks are so vivid, it can be difficult for sufferers to connect with what is really happening around them. Because flashbacks are so immersive, they are often considered a type of dissociation.

What Is a Traumatic Event?

Traumatic events are defined as events wherein the person is exposed to actual or threatened death, serious injury or sexual violence. People may experience traumatic events personally, they may witness them in person, they may find out about a traumatic event that occurs to a loved one or they may be exposed repeatedly or extremely to the details of a traumatic event (this does not apply to exposure through television, movies, etc.).

Examples of Traumatic Events

Traumatic events can include:

  • Sexual assault
  • Physical assault
  • Living through a natural disaster
  • Combat-related experiences

While people often think of a PTSD flashback as involving memories of combat, really, a PTSD flashback can be of any traumatic event that caused the PTSD.

The important thing is not the specific trauma but, rather, how the person experienced that trauma. The traumas themselves are innumerable.

How Long Do PTSD Flashbacks Last?

When considering how long flashbacks last, a small survey of those with PTSD indicates that flashbacks last:

  • A few minutes – 61.5%
  • A few hours – 40.4%
  • A day or more – 28.9%

(In the above, multiple votes were allowed for those that experience flashbacks of different durations.)

Handling PTSD Flashbacks

While PTSD flashbacks can make the trauma feel current and be very frightening, there are ways to prevent PTSD flashbacks or deal with flashbacks when they occur.

For example, for help preventing flashbacks, start to learn your own flashback warning signs. Each person is different, but, typically, there are physical and/or mental signs before a flashback occurs. You also need to identify what triggers a flashback so you can learn to avoid those triggers or plan ahead of time what to do if those triggers occur.

There’s more information on treating PTSD flashbacks here.

If you’re experiencing PTSD flashbacks, make sure you work with a healthcare professional such as a psychologist or psychiatrist for help. Posttraumatic stress disorder flashbacks can be conquered.

article references

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2021, December 23). What Is a PTSD Flashback?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, July 24 from

Last Updated: February 1, 2022

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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