Imagine if you woke up to turn on the TV feeling like you’ve seen tomorrow’s news, read tomorrow’s newspaper article, and heard the radio hosts have the same discussion for the rest of your life. We all experience bouts of déjà vu, but a 23-year-old British man with anxiety has been trapped in this time loop for eight years. According to the bizarre case published in Medical Case Reports, the man’s episodes could be the first case of anxiety-induced déjà vu reported.
Most déjà vu cases like these occur as a side effect associated with epileptic seizures or dementia. “However, in this instance it appears as though the episodes of déjà vu could be linked to anxiety causing mistimed neuronal firing in the brain. This causes more déjà vu and in turn brings about more anxiety,” said Dr. Christine Wells, report author and a psychology expert from Sheffield Hallam University.
As much as 70 percent of the population has experienced some form of déjà vu, with most cases widespread among individuals between the ages of 15 and 25. However, researchers still know very little about the phenomenon, but studies on temporal lobe epilepsy patients have shown episodes sometimes form part of patients' seizures. Dementia patients also experience chronic déjà vu.
The British man's case could help shed some light on the phenomenon that was originally thought to be psysiological rather than psychological. The 23-year-old admitted he had a history of anxiety, with a particular fear of germs leading him to wash his hands very frequently and to shower two to three times a day. His anxiety worsened when he began school at a university in 2007, with the déjà vu episodes becoming more intense. According to the report, he took lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) once, and from then on the déjà vu was fairly continuous.
By 2010, the man avoided watching television and listening to the radio, as well as reading papers and magazines, since he felt he had already “encountered the content before.” He has underwent a series of neurological examinations for signs of seizures, but neurological examinations and brain scans revealed nothing wrong. His brain activity appeared normal. Psychological tests to check his memory also failed to show any major issues.
Scientists remain skeptical with this bizarre déjà vu case, but Wells believes it could be due to abnormal nerve activity. “The general theory is that there’s a misfiring of neurons in the temporal lobes — which deal with recollection and familiarity,” Wells said, NewScientist reported. “That misfiring during the process of recollection means we interpret a moment in time as something that has already been experienced.”
It is possible that the man’s anxiety is causing neurons in the brain to fire inadvertently, which leads to the déjà vu episodes, more anxiety, and starts the process all over again. Although his case alone cannot prove that there’s a link between anxiety and déjà vu, the findings do warrant further investigation.
Whether you believe déjà vu derives from the paranormal, such as past lives and precognitive dreams or memories from experiences, there is no simple explanation as to why this odd sense of familiarity occurs.