Let's start off with the good news: you have not been shot, or otherwise killed. The bad news? The person next to you wasn't so lucky. This other list covers what's going on with the dead person by your side, but what about you? You just saw someone die. Do you know what happens to you after witnessing death?
Luck is on your side in the grand scheme of things, but there have been countless stories about the side effects of witnessing a shooting or other event of similarly traumatic effect. There are psychological effects, ones that linger for a lifetime. Stress, nightmares, mood swings are all long-term concerns after witnessing murder. And then there's the short term stuff, the panic, hyperventilating, tunnel vision, and slowing of time.
Read on to learn about recovering from seeing death.
Your Mind Perceives Time as Slowing Down
There's a brief pocket of time after you witness someone die during which the mind tries to process what happened. The same goes for hearing a gunshot, if you're involved in a shooting. As a result, your brain perceives that moment in time as slower than normal.
According to "Deadly Force Encounters: What Cops Need to Know to Mentally and Physically Prepare for and Survive a Gunfight," published by Dr. Alexis Artwohl and writer Loren Christensen in 1997, 63% of those who survived shootings said "events seemed to be taking place in slow motion and seemed to take longer to happen than they really did."
There's a Good Chance You Will Immediately Dissociate Yourself
Described by Stanford psychiatry professor Keith Humphreys as a "psychological form of self-protection," the act of dissociating from the realities of witnessing death is common. As Humphreys describes, in a frank discussion on the time he and his wife saw someone get plowed over by speeding cars on the freeway, in the immediate aftermath of witnessing violent death, the mind tends to "recoil," which dulls the senses as shock sets in.
Your Skin Goes Pale as a Result of Shock
The primary effect of sudden shock is the rapid loss of blood pressure. In the case of witnessing another person's death, fear kicks in quickly, which results in blood leaving the skin and heading straight for the muscle arteries as a way to compensate. This leaves your skin extremely pale, due to the lack of blood circulating through it.
You May Experience a Sudden Loss of Motor Skills
The sudden loss of motor skills in the wake of witnessing a murder or violent death is fairly common. This phenomenon is known as non-medical shock, and occurs because the anxiety surging through your body affects your brain, making it difficult for your mind to relay signals to the rest of your body that it's fight-or-flight time.