Multiple realities
(covers information from several alternate timelines)
"Is the parking brake on?"
– Christopher Pike, 2258 (Star Trek)

Inertial dampers, or inertial dampeners, were a system used on almost all starships to counter the effects of rapid acceleration and deceleration by sustaining and absorbing the natural inertia of a vessel as it moved through space or if it was under attack from another vessel.

A starship could not jump to warp speed without inertial dampers, as the rapid acceleration would smash the crew into the walls, killing them instantly. (VOY: "Tattoo")

Constitution-class starships in the alternate reality also could not jump to warp without the external inertial dampers disengaged. (Star Trek)

In 2155, while using a comet as camouflage to infiltrate John Frederick Paxton's base on Mars, Travis Mayweather disabled the inertial dampers of the shuttlepod, causing it to maintain an erratic flight path to better resemble a chunk of the comet. This caused Malcolm Reed some distress, as he had a history of gastrointestinal problems. (ENT: "Terra Prime")

In 2258 of the alternate reality, a nervous Hikaru Sulu failed to disengage the external inertial dampeners until Spock advised him. (Star Trek)

Although the inertial dampers were activated by default, the crew could enable, disable, and configure the strength of them manually. If the inertial dampers were disabled, they could be reactivated by resetting the inertial dampening field base at three-zero-zero and re-initializing the dampers. (VOY: "The Cloud")

This use of them could exaggerate the damage sustained by a starship in a battle, as the ship rocked more violently when its inertial dampers were disabled. (TNG: "The Chase", "Gambit, Part II")

As a safety precaution, the inertial dampers on Federation vessels had an automatic bypass that kicked in when the system was disabled. (TNG: "Cost of Living")

The entire crew of a Jem'Hadar attack ship was killed when their inertial damping system apparently failed as the ship went into warp. A Changeling that was aboard initially survived, but later died of its injuries. (DS9: "The Ship")

On stardate 50482.2, a cascade virus previously planted in the computers of the USS Defiant by Maquis defector Michael Eddington wiped all systems aboard. Several days later, the inertial dampers had not been fully repaired and, while the ship could reach warp 6, Chief O'Brien added, "Don't expect a smooth ride". (DS9: "For the Uniform")

In 2375, The Doctor suggested that the inertial dampers aboard USS Voyager being out of alignment could have accounted for a spate of space sickness cases. (VOY: "Relativity")

Soon after, Tom Paris simulated the effects of a mine with a disruption to Voyager's inertial dampers. (VOY: "Warhead")

In 2376, Voyager's inertial dampers went offline when the ship pursued the USS Equinox into a planet's parthogenic atmosphere. (VOY: "Equinox, Part II")

According to the Star Trek Encyclopedia (2nd ed., p. 205), inertial dampers were "invented" by Star Trek writers to explain how the crew avoided becoming "chunky salsa" when starships accelerated or decelerated.
The external inertial dampener from the film Star Trek was described as a "field-manipulation device designed to compensate for gravitational or acceleration forces when a starship is in dock" by the Star Trek Encyclopedia (4th ed., vol. 1, p. 256).

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