Self-injury in all its forms, including accident-proneness or a tendency to be victimised again in abusive relationships, may actually constitute screen memories of abuse or symbolic memories that a person is using to keep explicit abuse memories out of consciousness. Repeatedly hurting oneself is a way of not having to remember the original hurt. Self-wounding may also be an unconscious repetition of past abuse in an attempt to make sense of a dim but haunting memory. The person is trying to knit the implicit remnant of the trauma memory into fabric of a continuous mental narrative.
The amnesia that many self-injurers have for their destructive behaviour may be related to the return of memories from which they have disconnected. Since the emotional pain of returning memories is overwhelming, the person enters a trancelike state in an effort to keep them blocked. Self-injurers with dissociative disorders often say that they “find themselves” with injuries on their bodies in the same way that they in strange places without knowing how they got there. Self-injuring can be a form of reality testing for abuse that the person, on some level, knows happened but has split off from consciousness. Injuring oneself can bring “forgotten” memories of abuse into the awareness in several ways. The wounds themselves can reinforce the reality of past abuse, long disavowed by dissociation and the persistent denials of family members who maintain that the abuse never happened or was an expression of love. The pain of self-injury can test reality by restoring the feeling of being alive. Self-injury can also re-enact past abusive events symbolically, recalling them behaviourally, and reinforce the persons conviction that he/she was abused as a child. The fear of remembering what one was forbidden to remember may make amnesia a survival tactic once again.