Background: Flashbacks are a form of multisensory memory that are experienced with a “happening in the present” quality. Pain flashbacks are a re-experiencing of pain felt at the time of a traumatic event. It is unclear how common pain flashbacks are.
Aims: The current study was designed primarily to assess the prevalence of pain flashbacks in a sample of patients with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Methods: We assessed the prevalence of pain flashbacks over a period of 2 years in patients (n = 166) referred to a psychological trauma service in the UK. Patients underwent a clinical screen for PTSD and completed a self-report measure of pain flashbacks.
Results: Pain flashbacks were classified as present in 49% of a sample of complex trauma patients meeting criteria for PTSD. Pain flashbacks were positively associated with the extent of pain at the time of trauma.
Conclusions: Pain re-experiencing in PTSD, and its relative absence in nonclinical populations, supports an account of memory in which perceptual details can be re-experienced when memories have been encoded under conditions of extreme stress. It may be possible to conceptualize some cases of unexplained pain as pain flashbacks or of having a trauma origin.