What Is PTSD?When confronted with a potentially traumatizing event, our brains are quite adept at taking a snapshot of that situation and remembering the circumstances under which we were faced with death or serious harm. At some point we may be presented with similar circumstances, and our bodies react in preparation to deal with the threat again. This is commonly known as our "fight or flight" response.
If the fight or flight response is activated by events that truly are life-threatening, the usefulness of the response is evident. It could indeed keep us safe. However, if this response continues for a period of time beyond the threat, it can become maladaptive. PTSD leads a person to over-generalize the fight or flight response to threats such that even benign events (e.g., a car backfire) signal danger. People with PTSD may continue to respond to triggers (or reminders of the life-threatening event) as if their life is in danger even when it is not2. And PTSD may be exacerbated in a crisis, making a difficult situation even more problematic, both for the person with PTSD and others.