Our memories are a main aspect of our identity. In the science fiction classic Blade Runner the replicant Rachel , and later Decker explore the limits of memory and the role that memory plays in our self identity. Just as Rachel had to recognize the lack of fidelity of her memories, which were in fact those of her creator’s nieces, when we explore the complexity of our own memory, we may become aware of its limits.
How much of your early childhood do you remember? While we forget much of the minutiae of daily life there is a period of early life in which even important events in our lives seem inaccessible to us. That is because a part of the brain responsible for transfer of information into long-term or consolidated memory, the hippocampus is not developed. Nonetheless, the emotional context of events become engraved into our consciousness. This type of memory, implicit memory operates independent of explicit and consolidated memory but is at a felt level. These implicit memories may persist into adulthood, mute from expression but no less real for that.
The period of amnesia in early childhood termed infantile amnesia, is similar to the amnesia associated with emotional trauma, and both are due to a lack of effective hippocampal function, developmental in the former but acquired in the latter. Intense stress and emotional trauma disrupts hippocampal function, at least in part due to the effects of high levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, on hippocampal neurogenesis.
But the impact of emotional trauma, which disrupts explicit memory continues in implicit memory. These implicit memory traces from the period of infantile amnesia are benign normally and soothing. From trauma induced amnesia in adulthood the effects are potentially devastating. In his landmark paper The Body Keeps the Score, psychiatrist Bessel Van Der Kolk outlines the somatic impact that emotional trauma has on the body.
Mind-body practices like yoga may be a good way to reconnect the conscious mind to these felt memories.