The original trauma is experienced by the infant as being a life-threatening event, because indeed, to all mammalian species, separation from mother to a baby means death. In every aspect this is the same PTSD disorder. The only apparent difference is that the shift to the earlier trauma involves a shift to the earlier mind/brain/reality/feelings/behavior/ chemistry/physiology/body movements/level of affective expression and anatomic sites in the brain that were active and developing at the precise time of the original trauma during infancy. The shift to earlier mind/brain/reality gives the appearance of this being a totally different disorder, but in actuality it is exactly the same and meets full DSM criteria for delayed PTSD.
Similarities between PTSD from adult life and delayed PTSD from infancy include:
1. The original symptom-defining trauma for both is an overwhelming event. To the adult combat veteran it might be terrifying experiences of carnage and death, usually associated with sudden sharp, loud noises. To the infant it is anything the infant might experience as a threat of separation from the mother. These sometimes subtle traumas are not recognized as being upsetting to a baby, and might include taking a brief vacation and leaving the baby for a few days with someone who is totally trustworthy, caring and reliable. The problem is, the baby doesn’t know that, and the baby might be terrified of abandonment and death, a fear that goes back thousands of years with all mammalian species. Other infant separation traumas include moving to a new house and the mother busying herself making the new place look like home, or a tragedy happening to an older child, taking away the mother’s attention, or the father doing something foolish that upsets the mother and emotionally produces a separation trauma to the baby.
2. The initial symptom-precipitating trauma, years or decades later, matches or resembles the original symptom-defining trauma in some way. Most often it is a loud noise that precipitates the initial flashback in the veteran – or it can be any other element of war. In the infant it is a separation from some other “most important person” years of decades later that precipitates the initial step back in time.
3. The symptom-precipitating trauma triggers a survival mechanism for both, which applies to all species, at all ages, and in general enhances survival more often than not. Otherwise it would not be built in as an adaptive measure for survival.
4. The survival mechanism can be mal-adaptive, in both war trauma and in schizophrenia.
5. In both, the person returns partially to the entire earlier gestalt, i.e., the earlier mind/ brain/reality/feelings/behavior/chemistry/physiology/body movements and anatomic sites in the brain that were active and developing at the precise time of the original trauma.
6. The negative symptoms are the same for both (these result from the enormous process of repression, beginning at the time of the original trauma, which forces unpleasant thoughts, events and feelings out of the conscious mind.
7. The positive symptoms are the same. These are represented by wild chaotic behaviors associated with thoughts, feelings, memories and actions connected with the original traumas – whether these overwhelming thoughts and feelings occurred during infancy or from terror associated with trauma of adult life.
8. The precursors of delayed PTSD are the same, whether caused by terrifying experiences from infancy or from adult life.
9. The defensive wall is the same (a massive shield of repression stemming from the original traumatic event).
10. Precursors and negative symptoms in both are attempts to suppress or repress the painful experience of the original trauma.
11. The one-directional correlation is the same. The war didn’t start because twenty years later someone had a flashback, and the infant trauma did not occur because years or decades later someone developed schizophrenia, or because someone developed neurobiological change.
12. The age of origin of schizophrenia can be determined clinically because the symptoms of the patient match the feelings/behavior/reality of the infant when the original trauma occurred, and the age when the war trauma occurred can be determined clinically too-because the symptoms match trauma from war, and we know how old the veteran was when he experienced the trauma of war.
Thus we have twelve precise parallels between delayed PTSD from infancy and delayed PTSD from adult life. These are so precise that schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder and the other psychotic and non-psychotic depressions actually meet all DSM criteria for delayed Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.
In addition to adding to the understanding of the disorder, this takes away the stigma of being labeled schizophrenic, bipolar, etc.