One major event taking place at the moment of traumatic brain injury in neuronal cells is the occurrence of massive ionic fluxes across the plasma membrane, which can be referred to as traumatic depolarization (TD). Unlike spreading depression, TD can occur over wide brain areas simultaneously. Furthermore, recovery from TD often takes far longer than recovery from ionic perturbation elicited by the passage of a single wave of spreading depression. Neuronal cell damage caused by ischemic brain injury is also initiated by massive ionic fluxes, termed anoxic depolarization. The occurrence of similar ionic events in these two forms of brain injury may account for the genesis of diffuse ischemia-like damage without actual episodes of hypoxia or ischemia in traumatic brain injury. We review the data indicating that excitatory amino acids (EAA) may play a vital role in producing TD, and that such EAA-mediated ionic perturbation is responsible for a number of posttraumatic events including subcellular metabolic dysfunction and cellular responses such as microglial activation and astrocytic transformation. TD may represent one of the most important mechanisms of diffuse neuronal cell dysfunction and damage associated with traumatic brain injury.