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Have You Experienced Deja Vu? What Causes Deja-Vu?

Updated on April 3, 2018
RedElf profile image

RedElf (Elle Fredine) photographer and published author, educator. Life-long learning is key to adding value to life.

Is Déjà Vu Real?

There are those who claim that déjà vu is a psychic phenomenon, closely related to, or an example of Extra Sensory Perception. There are those who hold up scientific evidence to support their theory of a malfunction in the brain's processing of an experience. Which of these answers is correct - what causes déjà vu?

Many people report having experienced déjà vu. Episodes can last from a few seconds to several minutes, and take a variety of forms, from feelings of familiarity in an unfamiliar place - somewhere that person has never been - to a conversation of seconds or minutes in length that is heard in the mind a split second before each word is spoken. Each of these experiences has left the same sense of wonder and mystery in its wake.

According to Scientific American:

"Researchers believe that a memory system that includes the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus mediates conscious recollection whereas a memory system that includes the parahippocampal gyrus and its cortical connections mediates feelings of familiarity. Josef Spatt has recently argued that déjà vu experiences occur when the parahippocampal gyrus and associated areas become temporarily activated in the presence of normal functioning in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus. This produces a strong feeling of familiarity but without the experience of conscious recollection."

Stranger Than Déjà Vu? Its Déjà Rêvé
Stranger Than Déjà Vu? Its Déjà Rêvé | Source

I've Been Here Before...

Did the person really experience a strange/foreign place in another lifetime or in some kind of astral travel? Some would say, "Yes, absolutely."

Others would say, "Possibly, but there might be another explanation."

Almost everyone, though, would agree that the event was fascinating, whatever its origins.

According to a 1963 study by Robert Efron of Boston's Veterans Hospital:

"Déjà vu is caused by dual neurological processing caused by delayed signals. Efron found that the brain's sorting of incoming signals is done in the temporal lobe of the brain's left hemisphere. However, signals enter the temporal lobe twice before processing, once from each hemisphere of the brain, normally with a slight delay of milliseconds between them. Efron proposed that if the two signals were occasionally not synchronized properly, then they would be processed as two separate experiences, with the second seeming to be a re-living of the first."

Anecdotal Accounts of Déjà Vu

What is Déjà Vu?

Déjà vu translated into English is, literally, "already seen." It refers to the feeling you have been in that place before, or have had that exact conversation before.

People who experienced déjà vu have reported that they absolutely knew what they would see or hear next, and then, that was exactly what happened. Some reported instances of knowing absolutely where to find a room, or an object in a house where they had never been before.

I, like many others, have had numerous experiences of déjà vu over the years. Upwards of 70 percent of people world-wide report having experienced some form of déjà vu. A higher number of such incidents occur in those 15 to 25 years old than in any other age group.

A Psychological View of Déjà vu

Is Déjà Vu a Paranormal Event?

Is time somehow out of joint for these souls? Have they actually traveled to these places? Have they had a moment of clairvoyance? Are they prescient? How best can these curious experiences be explained?

Some researchers into the paranormal would argue that these people have experienced the place or event in a past life perhaps, or in an astral travel, when their soul/spirit temporarily left their body, an event of which they are not consciously unaware. Now, when they re-visit that place, the information stored in their subconscious becomes accessible - the knowledge, impressions, and sensations of their previous visit.

There seems to be no way to predict when such an event will occur in most people. The incidents that are reported seem to have happened with equal frequency during both stressful and perfectly serene times.

Déjà vu, Presque vu, Jamais vu

I've Heard/Seen This Before...

One of the most common types of déjà vu is the kind wherein time seems to disjoint, or split into two streams. Suddenly, you are hearing the words in your head a split second, or even a syllable before they are spoken. Then, just as suddenly, the flow of time seems to amend itself, and the streams of words/syllables merge into normalcy.

This could be due to a perceptual shift in the brain. Some researchers into perception and learning, particularly into how our brains process information, believe that the input (the hearing and seeing of the event or conversation) somehow gets out of synchronization with the processing of the information (what our brain tells us is happening).

In a normal state, you see the lips form the words, you hear the sounds, and almost instantaneously, your brain translates those sensations, those sights and sounds, into words and meaning.

In the case of déjà vu, there is a glitch somewhere in your perception of the input. A slight lag develops, causing you to perceive the "translation" before your brain tells you that you have actually seen and heard the words being spoken - that is, the translation seems to be happening before the information is received.

Even though it may only last for a few seconds, this is what some researchers feel gives you the unshakable feeling that you have already experienced the event that is unfolding, or that you have had this conversation before.

Interestingly, déjà vu has also been associated with temporal-lobe epilepsy, where it is reported to happen immediately before a seizure. People suffering a seizure of this kind sometimes experience déjà vu during the actual seizure activity or in the moments between convulsions.

Déjà Vu In the Media...

What About Prescience?

Prescience, or "pre-knowing" refers to the idea that a person may have the ability to see into the future in some way - that they may, in fact, know what is about to happen because they have already seen the event in a dream or vision.

Prescience, the least commonly experienced form of déjà vu, can also be explained by the perception/processing glitch, where the information is taken in, but not perceived as coming from your physical senses until after your brain has supplied the information seemingly out of thin air - or some subconscious memory.

Prescience is closely linked to another form of pre-knowing, in which the person has knowledge of a place that can only seemingly be explained by their having been there before. According to Swiss researcher and scholar, Arthur Funkhouser, this is an example of what he refers to as déjà visite, or "already visited," such as the experience related by a friend of mine.

Spring-flowering Plum: Northern Alberta, close-up - photo by author
Spring-flowering Plum: Northern Alberta, close-up - photo by author

I've Been Here Before...

On his first trip abroad, a graduation gift from his parents, who had never been abroad, my friend and his companions were walking down a street in mainland China. It was mid-summer, and rather hot, and my friend said he was suddenly overwhelmed by the feeling he had been there before.

He informed his companions that around the next corner and three houses down was house with a red door-gate. He gave a detailed description of the gate, of the design on the stone wall, and of a tree with beautiful pink blossoms that overhung the roadway.

As they walked up the street, and turned the corner, they found the house he had just described, exactly three from the corner. Their approach revealed that the only discrepancy between his description and what they found was the tree. It was not in bloom. Upon inquiring of their guide, though, they were told that the tree would indeed have such flowers when it bloomed in the spring.

There would seem to be no reasonable explanation for this event. None of the friends had ever been to China. That particular house was not featured in any of the guidebooks they carried or referred to in planning their trip. Nor could they find any pictures or references on any of the web-sites they had visited in making their preparations.

Hemet, California:
Hemet, CA, USA

get directions

Home of "California Paranormal Investigators"

University of Edinburgh:
University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, City of Edinburgh EH9 3, UK

get directions

Home to the "Koestler Parapsychology Unit"

Déjà Vu - A Personal Anecdote

Less spectacular than my friend's experience, but nonetheless puzzling, was an incident that I experienced during a hospital stay.

About to be released after surgery to remove a thyroid adenoma, an encapsulated thyroid growth, I was standing at the sink in my hospital room, gathering up my personal effects. A nurse had just popped in to ask that I wait to leave until the surgeon could talk to me.

As I glanced up in the mirror, wondering why he might want to talk to me, a voice in my head supplied the answer. Inserted whole into my consciousness, a scenario played out - a radio script in which the surgeon entered, asked me to sit down, and explained he had found cancer. At that point, I laughed at my reflection for being overly dramatic, and continued gathering my things.

Several minutes later, just as I finished packing, my surgeon did enter, and in the exact tones, cadence, and wording of my "imagining" asked me to sit down. He touched my shoulder briefly in reassurance, and began explaining that they had found cancer.

For the next few moments, a sense of unreality prevailed as he repeated every word and gesture I had conjured in the mirror. That internal conversation replayed like an echo in my head, while the surgeon's voice spoke the same words aloud, as if he were reading from the script of my imagining. Finally, his words continued beyond my "script" of the event, and reality returned.

Nervous patient's-eye-view of a stethoscope - photo from
Nervous patient's-eye-view of a stethoscope - photo from

Perception or Paranormal?

Is this event explainable by a perceptual glitch? Possibly.

Could something in the nurse's manner or an unusual request from a busy surgeon have triggered a leap to the unwelcome but probable conclusion? We do tend to think the worst in such circumstances.

It is possible that the wording my imagination supplied during my internal conversation in front of the mirror was exactly the wording most commonly used to reassure patients who have just been diagnosed with cancer - possible, but a bit of a stretch.

It is also conceivable that the shock of hearing the word "cancer" could have triggered a perceptual glitch.

The concept of a glitch in perception that affects an event in progress is certainly plausible. It becomes more difficult to apply that theory where exact information has become somehow available in the brain several measurable minutes before the event occurs - such as in the time between my imaginary conversation, and the real conversation with the surgeon.

A perceptual glitch does not adequately explain this event, nor the case of my friend. How was either of our brains able to provide exact information, right down to color, texture, and in my case the exact wording and tone of voice, so far in advance of the actual event?

Once thought to have been caused by the brain making false memories, research by Akira O’Connor at the University of St Andrews, UK, and his team now suggests this is wrong.

As quoted in an article by Jessica Hamzelou:

"His team used MRI to scan the brains of 21 volunteers while they experienced this triggered déjà vu. We might expect that areas of the brain involved in memories, such as the hippocampus, would be active during this phenomenon, but this wasn’t the case. O’Connor’s team found that the frontal areas of the brain that are involved in decision making were active instead."

While certainly attractive to those who prefer a tidy and reasonable scientific explanation, the perceptual glitch theory has yet to be embraced as a viable cause in every reported case of deja vu, leaving the way open for other less scientific, but nonetheless fascinating theories.

One thing almost all the scientific research agrees on, is that déjà vu appears to happen when two parts of the brain that normally do not "talk to each other' or are not activated at the same time, are suddenly activated - in contact.

But science still has a long way to go, and there ares till more thigns under heaven and earth... and, as the imaginative film writers suggest below - what if it's really aliens?


  • Alcock, James. "Déjà Vu", in The Encyclopedia of the Paranormal edited by Gordon Stein (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1996)
  • Parapsychology: Research on Exceptional Experiences edited by Jane Henry (Routledge, London 2005)
  • The Psychology of Déjà Vu by Dr. Vernon Neppe. (Witwatersrand University Press, Johannesburg, South Africa, 1983)
  • Three Types of Déjà Vu by Arthur Funkhouser, Ph.D. (Scientific and Medical Network Review, 57:20 - 22, 1995) University of Manitoba

Web Sites:

  • Pacific Neuropsychiatric Institute (
  • Body Mind Spirit Directory (
  • Paranormal Studies and Investigations Canada (

Comment and Link from Fellow Hubber Sambo Rambo

Check out this article from SamboRambo - another interesting take on the deja-vu phenomenon.

SamboRambo 3 days ago

Great hub! I've had deja-vu's, and maintained a reflective focus during them. But one time I had an outright preview, like you did, which elicited a different reaction. This was not a deja-vu, because I was so amazed, seeing everything happen word-for-word, action-for-action, that all I could do was laugh (as described in the hub).

Sometimes our "gifts" come more to the fore than on most other occasions. One of those gifts is probably clairvoyance. Perhaps I "received" the plans and thoughts of the woman who was planning this clever "trap." The same with you: Your doctor may have been planning - down to the moves - how to break the information to you.

Déjà Vu - As Only Monty Python Could Express It...

© 2011 RedElf


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    • RedElf profile imageAUTHOR


      2 years ago from Canada

      I've read some fascinating articles about the causes - the primary one being a temporary disconnect that makes us seem to be remembering what's actually happening in the present. The theory mostly works, but I still feel there's something else going on.

    • rainaelf profile image

      Mari S Adkins 

      2 years ago from Lexington

      Ha ha. I came down to the comments to post almost exactly what Alem posted. Add to that, I've had deja-vu experiences for as long as I can remember, most if not all of them based on precognitive dreams. (maybe the rest are aliens?) The longest I've gone, that I know of, between dream and reality (?) is almost three years.

    • RedElf profile imageAUTHOR


      2 years ago from Canada

      That's interesting - I will have to look into that. I had come across the multi-verse theory, but hadn't considered the Matrix. Thanks, Adam.

    • tHErEDpILL profile image

      Alem Belton 

      2 years ago from New York

      I was wondering if I would see "glitch in The Matrix" in here. I did not, but I still enjoyed the read. Many people believe that we may all be in a computer simulation just as the aforementioned movie suggests. Within this theory, Deja Vu would be a glitch in the simulation. Also, some scientist believes there may be alternate parallel universes or "multiverses" similar own. This may connect with the astral theory.

    • RedElf profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Canada

      Thanks so much, Laurinzo, and thanks for the sharing. Deja Vu is such an interesting phenomenon. I wonder if it's one of those things we will ever figure out.

    • Laurinzo Scott profile image

      LJ Scott 

      8 years ago from Phoenix, Az.

      Very fascinating hub Redelf; I have certainly been experiencing many of these things for years; especially in dreams. I really liked reading this hub, and definitely going to share it with some others.


    • RedElf profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Canada

      Isn't it fascinating, how many have experienced this phenomenon! It really makes me wonder sometimes how we can receive such information.

    • Minnetonka Twin profile image

      Linda Rogers 

      8 years ago from Minnesota

      Incredibly fascinating hub RedElf and I really liked that you gave us true life experiences of it. I've had many deja vu moments in my life and have even experienced them with my twin sister. We both knew of a place our mother brought us many years ago. We told mom that in the back of this furniture store there use to be a movie theater which turned out to be true after talking to the owner.

    • RedElf profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Canada

      Thanks for sharing your experience with us, Lucifer. It's always interesting to hear how many have experiences of deja vu.

    • Lucifer999 profile image


      8 years ago

      I also once had such an exp.....

      One day i was sitting wid my frnds discussing bout my exams just wen my friend told me bout the imp ques i felt that he had already told me the same thing . I told him that i'm having a déjà vu and a girl is going to fall within a min. The same thing hppnd exactly as i told.

    • RedElf profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Canada

      Thanks so much, David. I have always been interested in the science of perception, and in how we learn and retrieve information. There are so many things about our wonderful brains we just don't understand. I find anything to do with perception, as well as extra sensory perception, is fascinating to research.

    • David Legg 7 profile image

      David Legg 7 

      8 years ago from Trout Paradise, Colorado

      That is a fascinating hub. I learned some new things that I had neer heard before, particularly about the age range where this is most likely to happen, and the perceptual issues in the brain, and I really appreciate that you took the time to bring together such a well researched presentation on the topic. Thank you so much!


    • RedElf profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Canada

      Glad you enjoyed the article, chris. I'm not sure what to tell you. I do believe we should pay attention to our dreams, though, especially if dreams are recurring. Good luck sorting it out.

    • 910chris profile image


      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Wow, very good read. I have experianced Deja Vu before, but I have noticed that it has been increasing over the last 10 months. It used to be a once every six months type of thing, but lately it has almost become a once a week where it seemed like it always came from dreams I had almost 7-10 years ago. I keep a sleep journel and I have found more than a dozen of my Deja Vu's in my journal. I wish I knew what was going on.

    • RedElf profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Canada

      Glad you enjoyed the hub, ruffridyer.

    • profile image


      9 years ago from Dayton, ohio

      A friend of mine went to the Deja Vu strip club on his birthday. When I asked how it was he said,"I felt like I'd been there before." haha. An interesting hub.

    • RedElf profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Canada

      I have always been interested in deja vu - it is a fascinating area of study. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Karanda!

    • Karanda profile image

      Karen Wilton 

      9 years ago from Australia

      Fascinating subject and most informative Hub. I experience Deja Vu on a regular basis and it is usually followed by some sort of pleasant event whereas my husband cringes when he gets the sensation as it has always been associated with something tragic following. Who knows?

    • RedElf profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Canada

      No worries, SamboRambo - I have snipped out your earlier comment and included it in my hub with a proper link - thanks bunches!

    • SamboRambo profile image

      Samuel E. Richardson 

      9 years ago from Salt Lake City, Utah

      sorry, RedElf; I shouldn't have put a "period" after my link. It messes up the system. When you get to the page with the error message, just go to the url window, delete the period, and you'll get there.

    • RedElf profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Canada

      That's certainly an interesting take on the event. I have never been 100% sure what exactly caused it to happen, but I must admit to a similar reaction. I must go and read your article now! Thanks so much for commenting.

    • RedElf profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Canada

      Thanks so much for stopping by to comment, immortalcoach. Yours is an interesting theory ;D

      Thanks so much, Angie Jardine. I find both theories fascinating. Not sure which is most appealing, but both are certainly interesting.

    • Angie Jardine profile image

      Angie Jardine 

      9 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ...

      Thanks for this excellent hub, Red Elf. As everyone else has already pointed out deja vu is an interesting phenomena and anything to do with the mind interests me greatly. Current research is always fascinating even if it is not so exciting as the past life theory...

      All the best ...

    • immortalcoach profile image


      9 years ago

      As immortals we are co-creating situations, circumstances and events that seem deja~vuie, but really all we are doing is reconnecting with energy that we know and that feels good. Remember what we all want is to feel good. Watch the more you feel good the more you attract things that are deja~vuie. Thanks for a great hub.

    • RedElf profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Canada

      Thanks so much, Seeker7! I agree, we have so much more to learn about such things.

      viveresperando, thanks so much for stopping by to comment.

    • viveresperando profile image


      9 years ago from A Place Where Nothing Is Real

      very interesting, love reading about this topic

    • Seeker7 profile image

      Helen Murphy Howell 

      9 years ago from Fife, Scotland

      Fantastic hub. This is one of the subjects that I never get tired of learning more about. I do agree that the scientific theories may cover some examples of deja vu but definitely not all. Really enjoyed this excellent hub.

    • RedElf profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Canada

      I felt a similar sense of eeriness at the deja vu experience I have had. It was an intriguing yet unsettling experience. I have always been fascinated to learn more about how deja vu happens.

    • William F. Torpey profile image

      William F Torpey 

      9 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      I've had several deja vu experiences in my life, RedElf, so I found this very interesting. Invariably, these experiences came upon me during a conversation in which I felt certain that the identical experience had occurred before. It was very eerie.

    • RedElf profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Canada

      mslizzee, you are so right. There is so much we do not yet understand about our physical world, let alone the world of unseen things.

      Sun Pen 50, I, too, am sure that more people would share their experiences in that case. Thanks for stopping by to comment.

      Thanks so much for the rate-up and everything, Gals! Deja vu is such an interesting area of exploration, and I must admit I have been fascinated for years!

      Friend Hh, I have always had a tendency to kick over the anthill to see what happens :D Sometimes that gets me into trouble, but it often leads to some interesting finds, too.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      9 years ago from London, UK

      There are some unusual happenings and things in this world and I would never challenge them. Being a coward, I leave them well alone.

    • KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

      Susan Hazelton 

      9 years ago from Sunny Florida

      RedElf, there are so many things that happen that are unexplained. I have had the feeling of Deja Vu. I think it happens to most if not all of us.

      I've occassionally had the feeling, when meeting someone for the first time, that I have known them before.

      The concept is fascinating. I enjoyed reading your article, and find your possible explinations to be pretty close to what I believe.

      Wonderful job. Rated up, awesome, bookmarked, and shared, I know several people who are interested in this subject.

    • Sun Pen 50 profile image

      Sun Pen 50 

      9 years ago from Srilanka

      I think a lot more people than we think have Deja vu experiences in various levels of intensity or clarity and duration. But many ignore or forget these. If this phenomenon is recognized as a common natural thing people will come out with their experiences. Great info and great hub. Thanks for sharing.

    • mslizzee profile image


      9 years ago from Buncombe County, NC

      There are things that go on that defy explanation. The longer you live I suppose the more ood incidents you experience. I've had a few that were so odd and wherein I knew exactly what was going to happen in the next few seconds. Interesting.

    • RedElf profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Canada

      You are most welcome, Jangaplanet. It is an interesting subject, that's for sure.

    • Jangaplanet profile image

      A James Di Rodi 

      9 years ago

      This is very interesting info. I always loved reading paranormal books or watching documanaries on the subject.

      I have had many of these so called Deja Vu experiences and always let the experience pass me by without any thought to what it means. Though lately i have become much more curious into what truly causes this. Thanks for sharing this...


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