Although no longer a major focus of our research, we have conducted studies testing cognitive mechanisms in people reporting recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse. The major take-home message of our research is as follows. There appears to be no convincing evidence that people can repress (or dissociate) memories of truly traumatic events that they have encoded. However, some people who experienced childhood sexual molestation in their childhood, but who did not experience the events as traumatic, may forget their abuse for many years, yet recall it upon encountering reminders in adulthood. Interpreting their molestation through the eyes of an adult, they often experience PTSD symptoms. Accordingly, people may forget and “recover” memories of abuse that they did not experience as traumatic at the time of their occurrence. They forget the memories not because they were traumatic and thus “repressed,” but rather because they did not experience them as traumatic at the time they occurred.
McNally, R. J. (2012). Searching for repressed memory. In R. F. Belli (Ed.), True and false recovered memories: Toward a reconciliation of the debate (pp. 121-147). Vol. 58: Nebraska Symposium on Motivation. New York: Springer.