9 Things Your Brain Is Trying To Tell You When You Experience Deja Vu


If you've ever had déjà vu — that feeling that what you're currently doing has already happened — then you know it can feel like being in the twilight zone. However, there are things your brain is trying to tell you when you experience déjà vu. While déjà vu can make you feel like you've known someone, or been somewhere, in a past life, it might be all in your head, according to science. This actually makes me feel kind of bummed, because I like the idea of past lives. Scientific American reported that small seizures in the brain responsible for memory formation and retrieval could be the reason something suddenly feels familiar despite your having never experienced it before.

"With déjà vu, a brief synaptic misfiring might occur in these areas, creating the illusion that the event has occurred before," Alan Brown, professor in the department of psychology at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, told Scientific American. These mini seizures are nothing to worry about, and Psychology Today noted that up to 70 percent of people report experiencing déjà vu, which is French for "already seen." If you're one of them, there might be some things your brain is trying to tell you when you're experiencing déjà vu.

1. You're Not Paying Attention

Apparently, the more distracted you are the more likely you are to experience déjà vu. Brown told Scientific American, "People who text on their cell phones while walking are only superficially aware of the shops and pedestrians they are passing. Perhaps an episode of déjà vu begins during such a moment. When we emerge into full awareness, we might do a perceptual double take. We are struck by a strange sense of familiarity because we saw the scene just moments before, unconsciously."

2. The Experience Actually Happened

Sometimes when you have déjà vu it might not actually be déjà vu at all. The feeling of familiarity could be happening because you've actually had the same experience in the past but simply don't remember it. "The psychology literature is replete with stories of adults visiting a notable place, such as a castle, and becoming overwhelmed by an uncanny sense of having been there before," Brown explained. "Their parents, however, clued them in: they had been to the castle as a very young child." He added that seeing something on TV then experiencing it IRL can also generate feelings of déjà vu.

3. You Have A Dominant Eye

While you might think of your eyes as pair with each eye being equal, most people have a dominant eye, which could contribute to feelings of déjà vu, Dr. Michael Roizen and Dr. Mehmet Oz explained in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "If that stronger eye sends information to the subconscious before both eyes focus and register the input as a conscious experience, your brain will tell you, 'I've seen that before.' And you have — but it was just a nanosecond ago."

4. You Need More Sleep

If you've been skimping on sleep and are having more experiences of déjà vu than is normal for you, your brain is likely telling you to get more shut eye. One of the reasons people experience déjà vu is due to something called memory mismatch, according to psychologist and researcher Akira O'Connor's blog. He noted that brain regions associated with memory conflict might be behind déjà vu. O'Connor described memory conflict as the conscious awareness of a discrepancy in memory signals being corrected. What's more, WebMD explained that, "Without adequate sleep, your brain becomes foggy, your judgment poor, and your fine motor skills hindered." Perhaps this is why you have more déjà vu when you're sleep deprived.

5. Your Brain Is Healthy

Despite that whole mini-seizure thing, déjà vu is actually your brain's way of telling you that it's working the way it's supposed to. When you have déjà vu your brain is checking itself to determine whether or not the feeling is a real memory or not. "It may be that the general checking system is in decline, that you’re less likely to spot memory mistakes," O’Connor said in the New Scientist. For people who don't experience déjà vu at all, there are conflicting ideas on whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. O'Connor theorized that perhaps these people just have better memories to begin with and don't need to check their heads. However, Christopher Moulin at Pierre Mendès-France University in Grenoble, said in the New Scientist, "Without being unkind, they don’t reflect on their memory systems." Basically, it's still up for debate.

6. It Happened In A Past Life

If you do believe in past lives, Dr. Judith Orloff, author of Second Sight: An Intuitive Psychiatrist Tells Her Story and Shows You How to Tap Your Own Inner Wisdom, wrote on her blog that déjà vu can occur when you experience something now that has already happened to you in a past life. She uses an example of woman who met someone and knew right away that she was going to marry that person. The couple both felt as if they had known each other their entire lives. This has actually happened to me, and it's an indescribable feeling of kinship that I have struggled to make sense of. I've had similar experiences when visiting certain countries that I'd never been to before.

"There are situations that are glitches in time, when the rules bend and the mystery takes hold. Enchanted moments that sparkle. These are déjà-vus. They can take place anywhere, at any time and with anyone," Orloff explained. "Your real estate agent might show you a house that feels so familiar and right, you instantly know it is yours. Or perhaps you are in a restaurant and sense an inexplicable kinship with a woman sitting in the back corner booth. Don’t let these possibilities pass you by. Take notice; investigate."

7. You're Experiencing Precognitive Dreams

Also in the new age-y camp is the possibility that you're experiencing precognitive dreams, which is basically dreaming about something before it happens. I know several people this has happened to. One friend kept telling me that she was having dreams and clear feelings that a certain person she knew was going to be in a car accident. Because of this my friend avoided riding in the car with this person. And, sure enough, there was an accident and the car was totaled (the person was fine.) "This could explain déjà vu by suggesting that the moment we have the experience of living something before is when we have previously dreamed about the present happenings," Jaydon Colin-Michael Nolan wrote on Listverse.

8. You're On The Right Path In Life

Life is basically throwing a bunch of stuff at a wall and seeing what sticks, and you might not always be sure you're on the right path. According to a blog by Radhika Mehrotra on Speaking Tree, déjà vu might be your brain's way of telling you that you're heading in the right direction. It's basically a message from your higher self telling you to keep going.

9. You're Experiencing The Tuning Fork Phenomenon

If you're like Fox Mulder on X-Files, and you believe in the existence of more than one universe, you may want to consider that your déjà vu is a result of something called the tuning fork phenomenon. "The tuning fork phenomenon relates to when the frequencies of a person’s mind temporarily match the frequencies of minds of other living people or subtle bodies in the afterlife," the Spiritual Research Foundation noted. Whatever the reason is for your eerie experiences, it's totally normal and you're going to be just fine.