The adjective retroactive refers to something happening now that affects the past. For example, a retroactive tax is one that is passed at one time, but payable back to a time before the tax was passed.
The Latin word retroagere, an ancestor of the adjective retroactive, means "drive or turn back," and goes along with the meaning of the word. Sometimes governments pass rulings that are set as if they were in effect before the ruling was even made, and that means they are retroactive. On the bright side, you might be awarded a salary raise that is retroactive, meaning you'll get paid more for work you did in the past. And, retroactive fads in clothing keep vintage clothing stores in business.