Déjà vu, a French term meaning “already seen,” describes the overwhelming feeling of already having experienced something that is actually being experienced for the first time. This phenomenon is sometimes accompanied by strong emotions, particularly feelings of nostalgia.
Understanding Déjà Vu
A number of different theories have attempted to explain déjà vu, but the exact cause is still unknown. Most people will experience déjà vu at least once, and some people experience it often. The sense of familiarity with an event or occurrence is often so all-encompassing that it seems as if it has happened in exactly the same way, and this is often disconcerting when coupled with the knowledge that the event has never happened before.
An example of déjà vu might include a concert attendee who, while seeing a band play for the first time, feels overwhelmingly as if they have seen that particular show before, despite having the knowledge this is not possible. Sometimes déjà vu may be less specific, and people experiencing the phenomenon sense that something is familiar about their current experience, but cannot figure out what precisely the source of the familiarity is.
Déjà vecu, a condition that has been studied by neuropsychologist Chris Moulin in England, is understood as the experience of having persistent, or even constant, déjà vu. While déjà vu is typically fleeting, an individual who experiences déjà vecu may feel as if an entire series of events is familiar. In extreme cases, the experience can impact one’s life, such as when an individual refuses to watch television because they believe they have already seen the shows. This is considered to be a more significant memory problem than déjà vu, and people who have it are often unaware of the condition. Rather than experiencing a brief moment of familiarity, an individual with déjà vecu perceives experiences as actual memories, though the experiences have never happened before.
What Causes Déjà Vu?
Mental health professionals continue to debate the precise cause of déjà vu, but most agree it is essentially an anomaly of memory. Memory is notoriously unreliable, and because people can remember things that did not actually happen, they may also feel familiar with things with which they have no familiarity. In some cases, there may be an issue with the interplay between long- and short-term memory. Current experiences are held in working or short-term memory, but the mind may perceive them as being part of the long-term memory.
Sensory experiences can also contribute to déjà vu. For example, smelling a familiar smell or hearing a familiar sound can cause some people to feel that an entire situation is familiar. Highly emotional experiences may also activate feelings of déjà vu.
Some health conditions are linked with frequent feelings of déjà vu, including epilepsy and schizophrenia. However, déjà vu is not itself a diagnosable condition, and the phenomenon itself is fairly common
Some new-age spiritualists and religious fundamentalists have argued that déjà vu is a prophecy or a form of spiritual enlightenment. However, brain research indicates it is largely a brain phenomenon, and episodes of déjà vu have not demonstrated any tendency to be prophetic.
Many people know of déjà vu but are likely less familiar with the following related phenomena:
- Déjà entendu (literally “already heard” in French) is similar to déjà vu, except it refers to the experience of hearing something familiar rather than seeing it.
- Jamais vu (meaning “never seen”) describes the experience of feeling like an experience is completely unfamiliar though it may be part of one’s typical daily routine and has been linked to amnesia, aphasia, and epilepsy.
- Presque vu (“almost seen”) can be understood as a “tip of the tongue” moment, when one feels as if the word or name they are looking for is just about to emerge. While everybody has this experience from time to time, recurring presque vu may be a sign of dyslexia or aphasia.
- Déjà vu and the brain, consciousness and self. (2008, January 3). Serendip Studio. Retrieved from http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/exchange/node/1682
- Lampinen, J. (n.d.). What exactly is déjà vu? Scientific American. Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-exactly-is-dj-vu
- Murphy, T. (1999). The experience of déjà vu in clinical and spiritual terms. Retrieved from https://www.god-helmet.com/dejavu.htm
- Ratliff, E. (2006, July 2). Déjà vu, again and again. The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/02/magazine/02dejavu.html
- Weller, C. (2014). Déjà vu and its relatives: How simple mistakes of memory could signal deeper neurological problems. Retrieved from http://www.medicaldaily.com/deja-vu-and-its-relatives-how-simple-mistakes-memory-could-signal-deeper-neurological-problems
- What is deja entendu? (n.d.). Retrieved from http://psychologydictionary.org/deja-entendu
Last Updated: 01-31-2018
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RobertaMay 14th, 2014 at 9:42 AM
I feel like I’ve read this article before… ;)
Gregory SJune 11th, 2014 at 7:37 AM
I have currently being treated for depression due to chronic back pain and I am suffering from deja vu for the last 6 months.
I feel very very anxious by this recollection of memory due to my short term memory being quite bad, forgetting words or actions. As we all have bouts of this, I have always treated it as something that you just shrug off as a quirk of your brain. But, now, I feel that this overwhelming feeling of dread and foreboding. Places I have never visited and people I have never seen before are very familiar prior to me actually arriving or meeting these persons.
Could anyone give me an inkling into what is going on as I feel that I am losing my mind and becoming quite stressed to say the least by these brain glitches.
Would seeing a councillor help and if so how would I approach this topic and be able to discuss it in depth as it is becoming a large part of my life?
WardOctober 15th, 2017 at 10:36 AM
Like idk if this deja vu is real like im not sure and sometimes sure what does It mean?
WardOctober 15th, 2017 at 10:38 AM
Plus idk maybe I have depression like I have mabye 2 signs idk if this is okay or what
AkshayDecember 1st, 2017 at 5:56 AM
HII Gregory s , am feeling the same deja vu from last 5 month. am feeling very unhappy and not understand what to do. plese help me if you got some result .
MartyAugust 8th, 2019 at 3:31 PM
I was listening to a C.B.C. segment on Déja vu, and I beleive your on that show with another Chris ( I think Wheeler). As mentioned these Déja vu wear frequent in my child hood and diminished in frequency in my adult life.
The issue I’m having with these discription is it doesn’t seem quit a match with my Type of Déja vu.
As a child I frequently dreamed of something and it would come to term in the future, sometimes within a couple of days or weeks and sometimes months and very rarely years later I would find my self in situation’s that I can remember stopping everything and stating to others I remember doing this exact same thing and remember the colors and the people. I would often think to my self maybe I can change the outcome of the past dream since, I remember doing this before. Eventhough I remember the basic situation and place I was in, the event never really ended or wasn’t quit the way it was in my dreams.
Shedding some light would be nice. Thanks again for this forum.
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