Déjà vu – French for “already seen” – is a phenomenon of having a strong sensation that an immediate experience or a currently-unfolding event has already happened in the past, regardless of whether it actually did.
Most people experience this odd sensation from time to time, but a 23-year-old British student, whose case was just published in the Journal of Medical Case Reports, claims he’s been trapped in a Déjà vu-like time loop for 8 years.
Report author Dr. Christine Wells, a Psychology Lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University, documented this curious “Groundhog Day” story, which began in 2007, shortly after the un-named student started university.
In the report, he claims he’s had a long history of anxiety about germs that led him to wash his hands obsessively and shower 2 or 3 times per day.
Once the studies commenced, his anxiety and low mood worsened, prompting him to take a break, at which point he experienced the first instances of Déjà vu.
Most of those were rather short and mild in nature, but other attacks could be extremely prolonged and frightening, growing ever more intense as he returned to his studies the same year.
In 2008, he underwent neurological examination, which showed no abnormalities, and was re-tested in 2010, by which time his condition caused him to avoid all television, radio and even newspapers, as he felt he’d already “encountered the content before”.
On one occasion, he took lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and from then on the feelings of Déjà vu became fairly continuous.
“Rather than simply the unsettling feelings of familiarity which are normally associated with Déjà vu, our subject complained that it felt like he was actually retrieving previous experiences from memory, not just finding them familiar,” said Wells.
According to her, most similar cases occur due to epileptic seizures and dementia, but in this case, it might be that the episodes of Déjà vu are triggered by anxiety causing mistimed neuronal firing in the brain. As the episodes become more frequent and more severe, anxiety also increases, creating a feedback loop.
“If proved, this could be the first-ever recorded instance of psychogenic Déjà vu, which is Déjà vu triggered by anxiety rather than a neurological condition such as dementia or epilepsy.”
Scientists don’t yet know what causes Déjà vu, but it is thought to be a phenomenon that arises from activity within the temporal lobe.
One theory states that it’s brought about by mistimed firing of neurons that creates a temporary glitch in the processing of incoming information in the brain.
Wells hopes to conduct more research on the topic, thus increasing the probability of discovering a link between clinical anxiety and episodes of Déjà vu: “The case on its own cannot prove that there’s a link between anxiety and Déjà vu, but our findings raise the question and it should be studied further.”