John Libbey Eurotext

Revue de neuropsychologie


The singularity of mental time travel in post-traumatic stress disorder Volume 14, issue 4, Volume 14, numéro 4, Octobre-Novembre-Décembre 2022


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Normandie Université, UniCaen, PSL EPHE, Inserm, U1077, CHU de Caen, Neuropsychologie et Imagerie de la mémoire humaine, GIP Cyceron, Caen, France
* Correspondance : L. Charretier

Post-traumatic stress disorder, the most common psychological condition following exposure to an event that may have endangered the life of oneself or others, has been considered for several years as a real “memory disorder.” Indeed, PTSD leads to the simultaneous presence of a hypermnesia of the central (sensorial and emotional) elements of the traumatic event and a hypomnesia of its peripheral (contextual) elements. This memory disorder may prevent people with PTSD from distancing themselves from the traumatic event and lock them into a past traumatic moment. This may also impair their ability to engage in mental time travel, an ability which provides a thread between past experiences, present feelings, and future goals. Based on this impairment of past memory, several studies have examined the future component of mental time travel and have demonstrated, in PTSD, difficulties in imagining and pre-experiencing episodic and detailed future events. Imagined future events also appear strongly negative or related to the initial traumatic event. As a result of these alterations in the past and future components of mental time travel, individuals with PTSD are more likely to attribute a central role to the traumatic event in their self-image, with this experience becoming a reference point in the organization of autobiographical knowledge and the individual’s own identity. Thus, the mnesic and psychopathological consequences of PTSD lead to a disconnect between previously acquired personal representations of the pre-traumatic self and current self-representations and may induce negative beliefs and expectations about the self or the external world. Researchers should continue to examine the impact of PTSD on mental time travel to past and future experiences, considering both its cognitive and identity mechanisms and their potential contributions to post-traumatic therapy.