Most of us have had that uncanny feeling of a new situation seeming so familiar, it seems as if it’s already happened.
What exactly is going on here?
And why do we experience it — why does it happen?
Here’s a deep dive into this intriguing phenomenon, with insights from a clinical psychologist.
What is déjà vu?
Déjà vu is a French term that translates to “already seen” in English.
“It refers to the eerie and distinct feeling that one has already experienced the current situation or event, even though it’s a new and unfamiliar occurrence,” said Sanam Hafeez, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist, neuropsychologist and clinical director of Comprehensive Consultation Psychological Services (www.comprehendthemind.com) in New York City.
Déjà vu is a curious phenomenon, she said.
“It feels like a powerful wave of familiarity with the present moment, as if the person is re-living a past experience,” Dr. Hafeez told Fox News Digital.
What is the cause of déjà vu?
Although the exact cause of déjà vu remains somewhat enigmatic, several theories have been proposed to explain it, she said.
“Some suggest it may be linked to how memories are processed in the brain, potentially involving delays or errors in memory retrievals,” said Dr. Hafeez.
Some 60% to 70% of people in good health experience some form of déjà vu during their lifetime.
Other theories suggest it might result from the brain processing information through multiple pathways simultaneously, she said.
And another intriguing theory involves the idea of memories stored in a complex, interconnected manner in the brain, said Dr. Hafeez.
“Regardless of the precise mechanism, déjà vu is a transient and common experience that lasts only briefly, affecting people of all ages and not considered a pathological condition,” she said.
“While it remains a puzzle, déjà vu continues to be a fascinating facet of human consciousness.”
Who experiences déjà vu?
Some 60% to 70% of people in good health experience some form of déjà vu during their lifetime, according to WebMD.
“A familiar sight or sound can trigger the feeling,” the same source noted. “You may walk into a room in a building you’ve never visited yet feel like you know it intimately.”
Interestingly, déjà vu is more likely to happen to people between the ages of 15 and 25, according to Health.com.
“People with more education, those who travel a lot and people who can recall their dreams are also more likely to experience déjà vu,” the same source said.
Yet the frequency of déjà vu experiences can vary among individuals and some people may have déjà vu infrequently, while others might experience it more often, Dr. Hafeez said.
“It is also important to note that déjà vu is not associated with any particular medical or psychological condition. It is usually a brief and transient experience and is considered a normal aspect of human perception and memory,” she added.
Are there medical implications of experiencing déjà vu?
Déjà vu itself is not typically considered a medical condition, Dr. Hafeez said.
She said many people experience it at some point in their lives — and it is “not associated with a specific medical or psychological disorder,” she clarified.
There are, however, some medical conditions and neurological disorders in which déjà vu-like experiences may occur more frequently or in an altered form.
These conditions, according to Dr. Hafeez, include the following:
- Epilepsy: Déjà vu is sometimes reported as an aura or a partial seizure symptom in people with epilepsy. It can be a warning sign that a seizure is about to occur.
- Migraines: Some individuals with migraines may experience déjà vu-like sensations as part of their aura before the onset of a headache.
- Temporal lobe epilepsy: This specific form of epilepsy is associated with abnormalities in the temporal lobes of the brain and can lead to frequent and intense déjà vu experiences.
- Schizophrenia: Déjà vu may occasionally be reported as a symptom of schizophrenia, though it is just one of many possible symptoms associated with the disorder.
- Anxiety or stress: High levels of anxiety or stress can sometimes lead to distortions in perception and a sense of unreality, which might include déjà vu-like feelings.
Dr. Hafeez told Fox News Digital that it’s essential to understand that experiencing déjà vu on occasion is not a sign of a medical condition.
“However, if someone experiences frequent or distressing déjà vu episodes, especially if accompanied by other unusual symptoms, it is advisable to seek medical evaluation to rule out any underlying medical or neurological conditions,” she said.
“In such cases, a health care professional can conduct a thorough assessment and provide appropriate guidance or treatment if necessary.”