Autophagy is a physiological process that helps maintain a balance between the manufacture of cellular components and breakdown of damaged organelles and other toxic cellular constituents. Changes in autophagic markers are readily detectable in the spinal cord and brain following neurotrauma, including traumatic spinal cord and brain injury (SCI/TBI). However, the role of autophagy in neurotrauma remains less clear. Whether autophagy is good or bad is under debate, with strong support for both a beneficial and detrimental role for autophagy in experimental models of neurotrauma. Emerging data suggest that autophagic flux, a measure of autophagic degradation activity, is impaired in injured central nervous systems (CNS), and interventions that stimulate autophagic flux may provide neuroprotection in SCI/TBI models. Recent data demonstrating that neurotrauma can cause lysosomal membrane damage resulting in pathological autophagosome accumulation in the spinal cord and brain further supports the idea that the impairment of the autophagy-lysosome pathway may be a part of secondary injury processes of SCI/TBI. Here, we review experimental work on the complex and varied responses of autophagy in terms of both the beneficial and detrimental effects in SCI and TBI models. We also discuss the existing and developing therapeutic options aimed at reducing the disruption of autophagy to protect the CNS after injuries.