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What Is the Difference Between a PTSD Flashback and Hallucination?

Around six percent of people in the U.S. will develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during their lifetime. Understandably, PTSD isn’t identical for each person. People with PTSD may go through many symptoms, including flashbacks and hallucinations. What is the difference, though? Let’s break it down.

Types of PTSD

PTSD involves at least one traumatic event. The incident causes intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changes in thinking and mood, and changes in physical and emotional reactions. This diagnosis comes in three common forms.

  • PTSD: Caused by a single incident of trauma
  • Chronic PTSD: Caused by multiple individual incidents separate from one another
  • Complex PTSD: Caused by multiple incidents of trauma repeated over a prolonged period

PTSD Flashbacks

Flashbacks pull you back in time. Immediately, you’re mentally removed from your present environment. During a flashback, you’ll relive the traumatic experience. You might feel different aspects of your trauma. Any sensations and feelings like sound, temperature, skin-to-skin contact, or emotions may occur again. Truly, it’s as if you’re back in the moment.

Unfortunately, flashbacks can be hard to disrupt. Often, a person will maintain one to two senses. Depending on the nature of the trauma, a loved one may consider gently squeezing your hand over and over to safely disrupt it. If touch would worsen the flashback, a person could try talking softly to you. In a flashback, this can often sound like a voice in the wind. The reminder that you’re safe can keep you calm, even if it doesn’t stop the flashback entirely.

PTSD Hallucinations

In contrast to flashbacks, hallucinations imprint trauma onto your environment. Typically, you’ll see, hear, or feel your trauma. Sometimes, you can rationalize through the hallucinations. Other times, the hallucination is too powerful. More intense hallucinations might appear or feel more real, even if they don’t make sense. In this case, you should prioritize mental pain tolerance for coping.

How to Manage PTSD Flashbacks and Hallucinations

You can’t ignore PTSD symptoms. If you do, they will worsen until they reach a tipping point. Instead, it’s better to work on your mental health. You should seek out effective treatment for your trauma disorder.


Flashbacks and hallucinations in PTSD relate directly to trauma. They fall into the “intrusive memories” category of symptoms. Luckily, there are medications offered for these issues. Antipsychotics can decrease the following:

  • Hallucinations
  • Flashbacks
  • Delusions
  • Mood swings
  • Nightmares

Doctors, nurse practitioners, and psychiatrists can all prescribe these medications. The dosage and specific meds may vary based on your needs.


On top of medications, certain therapies can treat the emotions caused by flashbacks and hallucinations. Most notably, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) lets you decrease distress. Similarly, acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) helps you learn emotional regulation that you can use even in heightened scenarios.

Contrastingly, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) treats the root cause of PTSD. Your counselor will help you work through trauma using two tasks at once. The brain must split attention to do both, creating less focus on either one. A less intense version of the trauma goes back into storage each time. Ultimately, EMDR continues until the trauma isn’t impactful.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can cause distressing symptoms like flashbacks and hallucinations. Though they’re usually discussed in conjunction, they aren’t the same. Flashbacks pull you back into a traumatic memory; hallucinations push elements of your trauma forward. They both alter your perception of reality. At The Guest House, we understand that trauma underlies most mental health conditions. We offer a variety of treatment plans to match the schedule and health needs of all our patients. We’ll help you heal. Call (855) 483-7800.