Déjà vu

From New World Encyclopedia

Déjà vu (from French, meaning "already seen;" also called paramnesia, from Greek παρα para, "near" + μνήμη mnēmē, "memory") is the experience that one has witnessed an event that has already happened before. The term was coined by a French psychic researcher, Émile Boirac (1851–1917) in his book, L'Avenir des sciences psychiques (The Future of Psychic Sciences) (1907). The experience of déjà vu is usually accompanied by a compelling sense of familiarity, and also a sense of "eeriness," "strangeness," or "uncanniness." The "previous" experience is most frequently attributed to a dream, although in some cases there is a firm sense that the experience "genuinely happened" in the past.

The experience of déjà vu seems to be quite common among adults and children alike; in formal studies 70 percent of people report having experienced it at least once. References to the experience of déjà vu are also found in literature of the past, indicating it is not a new phenomenon. It has been extremely difficult to evoke the déjà vu experience in laboratory settings, therefore making it a subject of few empirical studies. Recently, researchers have found ways to recreate this sensation using hypnosis.[1]

Types of déjà vu

According to Arthur Funkhouser there are three major types of déjà vu,[2] which he identifies as:

  1. Déjà vécu ("already lived");
  2. Déjà senti ("already felt");
  3. Déjà visité ("already visited");

These three types of déjà vu are elucidated below.

Déjà vécu

Déjà vécu refers to an experience involving more than just sight, which is why labeling it as "déjà vu" is usually inaccurate. The sense involves a great amount of detail, sensing that everything is just as it was before and an uncanny knowledge of what is going to be said or happen next.

Translated literally as "already lived," déjà vécu is described by Charles Dickens:

We have all some experience of a feeling, that comes over us occasionally, of what we are saying and doing having been said and done before, in a remote time—of our having been surrounded, dim ages ago, by the same faces, objects, and circumstances—of our knowing perfectly what will be said next, as if we suddenly remember it![3]

When most people speak of déjà vu, they are actually experiencing déjà vécu. Surveys have revealed that as much as 70 percent of the population have had these experiences, usually between ages 15 to 25,[4] when the mind is still subject to noticing the change in environment. The experience is usually related to a very ordinary event, but it is so striking that it is remembered for several years afterwards.

More recently, the term déjà vécu has been used to describe very intense and persistent feelings of a déjà vu type, which occur as part of a memory disorder.[5]

Déjà senti

This phenomenon specifies something 'already felt.' Unlike the implied precognition of déjà vécu, déjà senti is primarily or even exclusively a mental happening, has no precognitive aspects, and rarely if ever remains in the afflicted person's memory afterwards.

Déjà visité

This experience is less common and involves an uncanny knowledge of a new place. The translation is "already visited." Here one may know his or her way around in a new town or landscape while at the same time knowing that this should not be possible.

Theories involving dreams, reincarnation and also out-of-body travel have been used to explain this phenomenon. Additionally, some suggest that reading a detailed account of a place can result in this feeling when the locale is later visited. Two famous examples of such a situation were described by Nathaniel Hawthorne in his book, Our Old Home[6] and Sir Walter Scott in Guy Mannering. Hawthorne recognized the ruins of a castle in England and later was able to trace the sensation to a piece written about the castle by Alexander Pope nearly a century earlier.

Carl Jung published an account of déjà visité in his 1952 paper On synchronicity.[7]

In order to distinguish déjà visité from déjà vécu, it is important to identify the source of the feeling. Déjà vécu is in reference to the temporal occurrences and processes, while déjà visité has more to do with geography and spatial relations.

Scientific research

In recent years, déjà vu has been subjected to serious psychological and neurophysiological research. Scientifically, the most likely explanation of déjà vu is not that it is an act of "precognition" or "prophecy," but rather that it is an anomaly of memory; it is the impression that an experience is "being recalled." This explanation is substantiated by the fact that the sense of "recollection" at the time is strong in most cases, but that the circumstances of the "previous" experience (when, where, and how the earlier experience occurred) are quite uncertain. Likewise, as time passes, subjects can exhibit a strong recollection of having the "unsettling" experience of déjà vu itself, but little or no recollection of the specifics of the event(s) or circumstance(s) they were "remembering" when they had the déjà vu experience. In particular, this may result from an overlap between the neurological systems responsible for short-term memory (events which are perceived as being in the present) and those responsible for long-term memory (events which are perceived as being in the past). In other words, the events would be stored into memory before the conscious part of the brain even receives the information and processes it. This would explain why one is, if it ever comes to mind, powerless trying to twist the outcome of the event in order to create a paradox. The delay is only of a few milliseconds and has already happened at the time the consciousness of the individual is experiencing it.

Another theory being explored is that of vision. As the theory suggests, one eye may record what is seen fractionally faster than the other, creating that "strong recollection" sensation upon the "same" scene being viewed milliseconds later by the opposite eye. However, this theory fails to explain the phenomenon when other sensory inputs are involved, such as the auditive part, and especially the digital part. Yet, persons with only one eye still report experiencing déjà vu or déjà vecu. The theory must therefore be narrowed down to the brain itself (say, one hemisphere would be late compared to the other one).

Links with disorders

Early researchers tried to establish a link between déjà vu and serious psychopathology such as schizophrenia, anxiety, and dissociative identity disorder, with hopes of finding the experience of some diagnostic value. However, there does not seem to be any special association between déjà vu and schizophrenia or other psychiatric conditions.[8] The strongest pathological association of déjà vu is with temporal lobe epilepsy.[4] This correlation has led some researchers to speculate that the experience of déjà vu is possibly a neurological anomaly related to improper electrical discharge in the brain. As most people suffer a mild (that is, non-pathological) epileptic episode regularly (for example, the sudden "jolt," a hypnagogic jerk, that frequently occurs just prior to falling asleep), it is conjectured that a similar (mild) neurological aberration occurs in the experience of déjà vu, resulting in an erroneous sensation of memory.


It has been reported that certain drugs increase the chances of déjà vu occurring in the user. Some pharmaceutical drugs, when taken together, have also been implicated in the cause of déjà vu. Taiminen and Jääskeläinen (2001) reported the case of an otherwise healthy male who started experiencing intense and recurrent sensations of déjà vu on taking the drugs amantadine and phenylpropanolamine together to relieve flu symptoms. He found the experience so interesting that he completed the full course of his treatment and reported it to the psychologists to write-up as a case study. Due to the dopaminergic action of the drugs and previous findings from electrode stimulation of the brain (for example, Bancaud, Brunet-Bourgin, Chauvel, & Halgren, 1994), Taiminen and Jääskeläinen speculate that déjà vu occurs as a result of hyperdopaminergic action in the mesial temporal areas of the brain.

Memory-based explanations

The similarity between a déjà vu-eliciting stimulus and an existing, but different, memory trace may lead to the sensation. Thus, encountering something which evokes the implicit associations of an experience or sensation that cannot be remembered may lead to déjà vu. In an effort to experimentally reproduce the sensation, Banister and Zangwill (1941) used hypnosis to give participants posthypnotic amnesia for material they had already seen. When this was later re-encountered, the restricted activation caused by the posthypnotic amnesia resulted in three of the ten participants reporting what the authors termed "paramnesias." Memory-based explanations may lead to the development of a number of non-invasive experimental methods by which a long sought-after analogue of déjà vu can be reliably produced that would allow it to be tested under well-controlled experimental conditions. Another possible explanation for the phenomenon of déjà vu is the occurrence of "cryptamnesia," which is where information learned is forgotten but nevertheless stored in the brain, and occurrence of similarities invokes the contained knowledge, leading to a feeling of familiarity because of the situation, event or emotional/vocal content, known as "déjà vu."

Neural theories

In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, it was widely believed that déjà vu could be caused by the mis-timing of neuronal firing. This timing error was thought to lead the brain to believe that it was encountering a stimulus for the second time, when in fact, it was simply re-experiencing the same event from a slightly delayed source. A number of variations of these theories exist, with miscommunication of the two cerebral hemispheres and abnormally fast neuronal firing also given as explanations for the sensation.

Alternate explanations


Déjà vu is associated with precognition, clairvoyance or extra-sensory perceptions, and it is frequently cited as evidence for "psychic" abilities in the general population. Non-scientific explanations attribute the experience to prophecy, visions (such as received in dreams) or past-life memories.


Some believe déjà vu is the memory of dreams. Though the majority of dreams are never remembered, a dreaming person can display activity in the areas of the brain that process long-term memory. It has been speculated that dreams read directly into long-term memory, bypassing short-term memory entirely. In this case, déjà vu might be a memory of a forgotten dream with elements in common with the current waking experience. This may be similar to another phenomenon known as déjà rêvé, or "already dreamed." However, later studies on mice indicate that long-term memories must be first established as short-term memories.

Not only is the link to dreams as they pertain to déjà vu the subject of scientific and psychological studies, it is also a subject of spiritual texts, as is found, for example, in the writings of the Bahá'í Faith with quotes like "…perchance when ten years are gone, thou wilt witness in the outer world the very things thou hast dreamed tonight."[9] and "Behold how the thing which thou hast seen in thy dream is, after a considerable lapse of time, fully realized."[10]


Those believing in reincarnation theorize that déjà vu is caused by fragments of past-life memories being jarred to the surface of the mind by familiar surroundings or people. Correspondingly, reincarnation has been tied to astral projection, or out-of-body experiences (OBEs), where it is conjectured that individuals have visited places while in their astral bodies during sleep. The sensation may also be interpreted as connected to the fulfillment of a condition as seen or felt in a premonition.

Related phenomena

Jamais vu

Jamais vu is a term in psychology (from the French, meaning "never seen") to describe any familiar situation which is not recognized by the observer. Often described as the opposite of déjà vu, jamais vu involves a sense of eeriness and the observer's impression of seeing the situation for the first time, despite rationally knowing that he or she has been in the situation before. Jamais vu is more commonly explained as the situation in which a person momentarily does not recognize a word, person, or place that they already know. Jamais vu is sometimes associated with certain types of amnesia and epilepsy.

Tip of tongue (Presque vu)

Déjà vu is similar to, but distinct from, the phenomenon called "tip of the tongue," which is when one cannot recall a familiar word or name or situation, but with effort one eventually recalls the elusive memory. In contrast, déjà vu is a feeling that the present situation has occurred before, but the details are elusive because the situation never happened before.

Presque vu (from French, meaning "almost seen") is the sensation of being on the brink of an epiphany. Often very disorienting and distracting, presque vu rarely leads to an actual breakthrough. Frequently, one experiencing presque vu will say that they have something "on the tip of their tongue."

Presque vu is often cited by people who suffer from epilepsy or other seizure-related brain conditions, such as temporal lobe lability.

L'esprit de l'escalier

L'esprit de l'escalier (from French, "staircase wit") is remembering something when it is too late. For example, a clever come-back to a remark, thought of after the conversation has ended.

An example of L'esprit de l'escalier in popular culture can be seen in "The Comeback," the 147th episode of the TV sitcom Seinfeld.


  1. BBC News, Déjà vu "recreated in laboratory. Retrieved August 10, 2008.
  2. Funkhouser, Arthur (1996). "Three types of déjà vu". Retrieved August 10, 2008.
  3. Charles Dickens, Personal History of David Copperfield (Time Warner Libraries, 1991, ISBN 1879329018).
  4. 4.0 4.1 How Stuff Works, What is déjà vu? Retrieved August 10, 2008.
  5. C.J.A. Moulin, M.A. Conway, R.G. Thompson, N. James, & R.W. Jones, Disordered Memory Awareness: Recollective Confabulation in Two Cases of Persistent Déjà vecu, Neuropsychologia 43: 1362–1378.
  6. Nathaniel Hawthorne, Our Old Home (Boston: Houghton Mifflin & Co., 1863, ISBN 1404374248).
  7. C.G. Jung, On synchronicity, 1952.
  8. Alan S. Brown, The Déjà Vu Experience. Retrieved August 10, 2008.
  9. www.ibiblio.org, The Valley of Wonderment Retrieved August 10, 2008.
  10. Bahai Library, LXXIX: As to thy question concerning the worlds. Retrieved August 10, 2008.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Boirac, Émile. L'avenir des Sciences Psychiques. Paris: Alcan, 1907.
  • Brown, Alan S. The Déjà Vu Experience. Psychology Press, 2004. ISBN 1841690759
  • Dickens, Charles. Personal History of David Copperfield. Time Warner Libraries, 1991. ISBN 1879329018
  • Draaisma, Douwe. Why Life Speeds Up as You Get Older Cambridge University Press, 2004. ISBN 0521691990
  • Hawthorne, Nathaniel. Our Old Home. Boston: Houghton Mifflin & Co., 1863. ISBN 1404374248
  • Jackson, J. Hughlings. "On a particular variety of epilepsy (‘intellectual aura’), one case with symptoms of organic brain disease." Brain 11 (11): 179–207.
  • Moulin, C.J.A., M.A. Conway, R.G. Thompson, N. James, & R.W. Jones. "Disordered Memory Awareness: Recollective Confabulation in Two Cases of Persistent Déjà vecu." Neuropsychologia 43 (43): 1362–1378.

External links

All links retrieved February 12, 2024.


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