When people receive sensory input, they generally automatically synthesize this incoming information into the large store of pre-existing information. If the event is personally significant, they generally will transcribe these sensations into a narrative, without conscious awareness of the processes that translate sensory impressions into a personal story.
Our research shows that in contrast with the way people seem to process ordinary information, traumatic experiences initially are imprinted as sensations or feeling states and are not collated and transcribed into personal narratives.
Both my interviews with traumatized people, and my brain imaging studies of them, seem to confirm that traumatic memories come back as emotional and sensory states, with little capacity for verbal representation.
This failure to process information on a symbolic level, which is essential for proper categorization and integration with other experiences, is at the very core of the pathology of PTSD.