The vagaries of time

A letter from Isabel Clarke.

Steve Taylor’s article on time expansion experiences (April edition) raises interesting points that could be considered in the context of the disturbance in sequencing of time in trauma memory, familiar to therapists. Research by Brewin (e.g. in 2011) and his colleagues and others, has established distinct types of memory with very different characteristics. Verbally Accessible Memory (VAM) is contextualised within sequential time, whereas Situationally Accessible Memory (SAM), when disconnected from VAMs, as can occur at very high and low arousal states, can present past, often threat, experiences as if they were present.

As Taylor points out, the phenomenon of interest is present in the here and now, and not just memory, and the distinction found in VAMs and SAMs is identified in both, within the Interacting Cognitive Subsystem (ICS) model of cognitive architecture (Teasdale & Barnard 1993). ICS draws on extensive experimental research to hypothesise two main overall meaning making systems, roughly corresponding to VAMs and SAMs but covering current experience as well. These can become progressively desynchronised at high and low arousal and where this, normally graduated, process reaches extremes, the character of subjective experience for the individual changes in the manner noted by William James, cited by Taylor; becoming heightened, the sense of self merging in the whole or elevated, and anomalous experiencing in general becoming accessible (Clarke, 2010, 2013). Along with this array of phenomena, characteristic of experiences that might get labelled as mystical or psychotic according to how it plays out, goes the sorts of time distortions noted by Taylor as well as the loss of sequential time characteristic of trauma. The fact that both high and low arousal provide the threshold within ICS perhaps relates to Taylor’s observation that his time expansion examples encompass both dire emergencies and calm meditation.

Isabel Clarke
Consultant Clinical Psychologist
[email protected]


Brewin C.R. (2011). The nature and significance of memory disturbance in posttraumatic stress disorder. Annual Review Clinical Psychology, 7, 203–227. doi: 10.1146/annurev-clinpsy-032210-104544 

Clarke, I. (2010). Psychosis and Spirituality: the discontinuity model. In I.Clarke (Ed.) Psychosis and Spirituality: consolidating the new paradigm. (2nd edn). Wiley. 

Clarke, I. (2013). Spirituality: a new way into understanding psychosis. In E.M.J. Morris, Johns, L.C. & Oliver, J.E. (Eds.) Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Mindfulness for Psychosis. Wiley-Blackwell.P.160-171. 

Teasdale, J.D. & Barnard, P.J. (1993). Affect, Cognition and Change: Remodelling Depressive Thought. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. 

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