Information Handout 

Types of Memory
Sensory, Short-term (working), and Long-term
Long-Term Memory
Cumulative Memory
Memory Processes
Traumatic Memory
Triggers and Cues 


The material in these Definitions is not meant as therapy or to take the place of therapy. Some of this information may trigger distressing responses, so please practice self-care and use caution and common sense while reading this material. 
Many of these Definitions are quoted verbatim from, or were adapted with permission from the FAQs pages at and .
Others were quoted or adapted as noted.



Memory in humans is a complex function that involves both the brain and the physical body. The Left and Right hemispheres of the brain each play their own role, as do the Conscious and Unconscious levels of memory. There are also different Types of Memory, including Sensory, Short-term and Long-term, and sub-types Procedural, Semantic, Episodic, Cumulative, and Muscle Memory.

Each aspect of memory interconnects with the others in some manner. Generally, memories start out conscious and short-term, then progressively shift to unconscious and long-term, as happens when a child learns to walk. The different Types of Memory are usually involved too. For example, learning to walk involves the how to procedures of limb movements, balance, etc, plus the semantics of the terrain being walked on, the episodic sequence of movements required, and the cumulative memory that shifts it to the mostly unconscious and automatic Muscle Memory level.

When dissociated, traumatic memories are not stored in the same way as “ordinary” memories. People normally remember an event in a holistic way that includes sights, sounds, feelings, and meaning. When dissociation occurs as a result of trauma, different parts of the memory are stored separately, not as a congruent whole. One or more aspects of the experience can therefore be missing in conscious memories of the traumatic event. However, traumatic memories are unconsciously stored in a manner which keeps them clear and intact as if locked in a vacuum that prevents aging or disintegration of integrity. This means that the details of individual memories are available for recall and interpretation, even those of preverbal experiences, since the emotional and physical “senses” and the “visuals and soundtrack” remain complete and whole in a manner which allows one to see, hear and feel what happened during the traumatic event, even decades later.


Types of Memory

There are three main Types or Stages of Memory: Sensory, Short-term (working), and Long-term. Before a memory can get to Long-term storage, the 3 stages of memory formation must take place.

·         Sensory Memory
A memory starts out as 1 second of Sensory perception (visual, aural/audio, touch, and/or other stimuli or aspects of experience, including smell, taste, thoughts and emotions.)
·         Short-term Memory
Paying attention to the sensory perception moves the memory for about 1 minute into the Short-term/working stage where we store what we need to know in the immediate here and now.
·         Long-term Memory
Repeated exposure to, or rehearsal/repetition of, the perception or stimulus moves the memory from short-term to Long-term storage, where we store knowledge we may need for reference in the future.

Long-Term Memory is divided into Unconscious Memory (implicit) and Conscious Memory (explicit), then further defined by the types of information stored.

·         Unconscious Memory
Unconscious Memory holds Procedural Memory, where we store skills and tasks – the physical body, motor, and “instinctive” Muscle Memory functions such as walking, laughing, how to use a knife and fork, or how to perform mechanical tasks, and the automatic reactions and behaviours we call “auto-pilot”.
·         Conscious Memory
Conscious Memory holds Declarative Memory, where we store facts and events.
Declarative Memory has 2 sub-types: Semantic Memory stores the facts and concepts that form the foundations for daily life. (= What is a computer?) Episodic Memory stores events and experiences in serial order and gives us the capacity to recall them. = How to use a computer.

Cumulative Memory refers to the build-up in Long-term storage of experiences and knowledge that we draw upon for automatic reactions, decision-making, and the creation of new learning.


Memory Processes

Memory is the ability to encode, store and retrieve information. There are 4 stages in the processing of memories.

Encoding is the input of perception and recording of stimuli that occurs when our attention moves information from sensory perception to short-term memory.
Consolidation is the temporary processing work that takes place in short-term memory as information is sifted and sorted into long-term memory.
Storage happens when the brain deems a memory significant enough to store. (This is why attention and studying are so important – they tell the brain “this is important information – remember it!”)
Recall/Retrieval is the recognition, interpretation, and reconstruction of information stored in Long-term memory. There are 2 types of information Retrieval: Recall, in which information is copied from unconscious to conscious memory, and Recognition, which happens when the information called up provides knowledge based on what has been stored previously.
For detailed information on memory, see the website of Ali A. Boori at:

Traumatic Memory

As I understand it, Traumatic experiences can cause detours at any of part of the Memory process because Dissociation can lock trauma memories away separately from the normal storage areas of the brain, so they end up hidden away in separate areas of Unconscious Memory, with out-of-the-ordinary connections and associations forged during the Encoding, Consolidation and Storage processes. I believe this is what creates the pristine storage found in Trauma memories that allows clear recall of details at a later time and enables the triggers and memory leakages of Flashbacks and PTSD.

It is through Cumulative and Muscle Memory that the most evident Dissociative Interferences occur. For example, when the sound of a car backfiring triggers a flashback to being in a war zone and the attendant survival responses and reactions kick into gear, it is Cumulative Memory and Muscle Memory joining forces and saying “that sounds like this previous sound” which triggers the previously learned/developed reactions and responses (in this case, seek cover and shoot), whether or not they are appropriate to the moment the trigger occurs, even if it only takes a fraction of a second to realize it’s only a car backfiring, you still get an adrenaline rush as if back in war.  The degree and level of such reactions interconnects with the details and intensities of the Aspects of the original Experience involved.


Triggers & Cues

A trigger is a catalyst. An example of a trigger for a non-dissociative person could be the smell of apple pie “taking them back to grandma’s kitchen”. Triggers can be situations, smells, sounds, actions, words, or other prompts that bring a memory or feeling to consciousness, or that activate an internal program.

Sometimes, triggers are intentionally created by abusers to activate deliberately installed programs. Common methods used in this manner include hand signals and/or touching the person, “coded” telephone calls, gifts, letters or greeting cards, specific dates and/or events. Cues such as names, phrases, colors, lights, and sounds are also used to activate a dissociated alter. Intentionally created triggers and cues of this type are generally very subtle, often consisting of commonly occurring gestures, words or other symbols that do not stand out or seem unusual. This can make them highly challenging to note, evade, and move beyond.

The term “triggered” is used in a very broad sense to mean anything from getting upset when a friend, co-worker, or supervisor is rude or thoughtless, to having a flashback at the dentist, or following a command after seeing a hand signal. The word “cue” is usually used more narrowly and refers specifically to a trigger that activates a program.



A flashback is a dissociated memory, or elements of a memory, returning to conscious awareness. It can include an entire, integrated experience, or fragments of an experience: a smell, a taste, a sound, an image, or an emotion. It can last a moment, or linger for weeks. Common examples include smelling alcohol or perfume when none is present, hearing a phrase over and over again in your head, feeling panic or dread for no logical reason, or seeing images, like snapshots or movies in the mind’s eye.

Flashbacks can be triggered by an experience similar to the one that was pushed out of consciousness. Experiencing flashbacks can be an indication that one feels stable and secure enough to deal with emotions and realities that couldn’t be safely processed previously. Flashbacks usually diminish in intensity and frequency over time. Flashbacks tend to lose their intensity when dissociated fragments have been assembled into a coherent, linear narrative, and the various threatening elements of the memory have been expressed and processed. This process is sometimes referred to as “integration,” as it serves to integrate the dissociated experience into conscious awareness, and is absorbed as part of the general understanding of one’s personal history and worldview.  
For further details on Memory, go to
1) The Human Memory site: