For example if we came across a young child crying in the middle of a grocery store, we probably won't know exactly what happened without asking individuals who had witnessed the events leading up to the crying child what happened. Some people might inquire more about what happened to help sort out the details while others will simply walk away. This back story is what dictates our reactions to the child crying. Even though the child has no idea what story we created, our reactions are still solely based on the story we developed to explain the crying child. The 'perhaps' scenario that we create explains is completely based on our own past experiences, so it will differ from one person to the next.
Someone who had been abandoned as a young child in a store might develop a completely different back story than someone who commonly threw tantrums as a child to get what they wanted. A person concerned that the child was abandoned is likely to stop and inquire if the child is okay, while the person who assumed the child was simply throwing a tantrum is likely to simply walk away without a second glance. The story we create is directly dictating our response to the child, so there will be drastic reaction from people that encounter the same crying child.
Confabulation is defined in the dictionary as the replacement of a gap in a person's memory by a falsification that he or she believes to be true.
Sometimes we only know part of the background, but we will still fill in the blanks for the portions of the story we don't know. This form of confabulation is such a common occurrence, that we don't even notice it happening. The trouble with this habit is that we use the stories we've created to determine meaning and an internal dialog. So, when we establish a background story that is incorrect or wrong we don't pause to determine if our reactions fit the current situation.
For someone who hasn't ever experienced abuse, confabulation is one of many reasons domestic violence doesn't make sense to an outside observer. The argument that ended with a few punches, was likely triggered by a seemingly small or insignificant event.
For example if a partner arrives home later than expected, an abuser might be 'triggered' by an emotional memory of some kind. Even if the abuser is completely unaware that this trigger exists, they will react to the situation with all the intensity of that emotion based on how they filled in the gaps to answer why their partner was late. If the gap is filled in with a story of unfaithfulness, the explosion following a partner coming home late might make more a little more sense. An understanding of how confabulation works can help external observers understand that the violence occurring in these situations isn't about someone coming home late, but instead it is a reaction based on something much darker and intense going on in the abuser.