You’re driving home from work. The next thing you know, you wake up in the hospital with serious injuries.

It can be incredibly jarring. You don’t remember anything about the accident itself. The whole thing was caught on camera thanks to another driver’s dash cam, so you can watch the crash, but it still doesn’t feel like anything that happened to you. It feels like watching someone else in your car.

If you’ve ever wondered why, it may not be a brain injury, as people sometimes assume. Instead, it may just be that your brain flipped into survival mode. When it does this, it becomes very alert and helps you stay alive, but that comes at a price. It stops making memories.

This can absolutely save you. For instance, maybe response crews tell you that you crawled out of your burning car and passed out on the side of the road. Your brain switched into survival mode and you could control your panic and think clearly, despite the pain and the horrific accident. That allowed you to concentrate on unhooking your seat belt and finding a way out. It helped you find that escape route.

The body’s other responses may also help. The increase in adrenaline, for instance, gave you the energy to crawl out. It helped you fight your way to safety despite the pain of a broken leg.

But those brain changes could also be why you recall nothing but waking up in the hospital. If you’re now facing serious medical bills and other costs, you may want to look into your rights to financial compensation.

Source: Smithsonian, “Why Can’t Accident Victims Remember What Happened to Them?,” Rachel Nuwer, accessed Jan. 17, 2018