It’s a fairly rare occurrence but something all of us experience from time to time. That unusually strong sensation that you’ve been there before or already experienced what you’re doing (or reading) in the present time – it’s called déjà vu which is French for “already seen. For most people, the feeling passes quickly leaving us slightly frightened and more often, confused. But not so for a 23-year-old British man who researchers say has become victim to one of the strangest cases of déjà vu ever recorded in modern medical history. For the past eight years, he’s been “trapped in a time loop”, feeling as if he was reliving every moment of his life.
The condition began in 2007 shortly after the man, who has not been named, enrolled in a local university college. Muddled and frustrated, the young man dropped out of school, avoided watching TV, and stopped reading newspapers and magazines because, well, what’s the point if you’ve already done it all before.
Doctors, who say this is the first case of its kind, are at a loss because the man does not suffer from any of the typical neurological conditions usually seen in people who suffer from frequent déjà vu. Brain scans showed no sign of seizures or neurological injuries and psychological tests produced positive results. He had other rather unusual behavioral conditions however including a history of feeling anxious and a fear of germs which led him to wash his hands frequently and shower two to three times per day. His anxiety heightened after he began attending the university and after shortly after taking a break from his studies, he began experiencing déjà vu events.
The man described the episodes as “frightening” and extremely intense. A doctor reported in the Journal of Medical Case Reports:
“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.”
The man reported that when he attempts to watch television or read a book, he feels as if he already has seen or read the content. Strangers on the street look familiar to him, new songs on the radio sound as if they’ve been heard a hundred times before, and even passing occurrences (such as a cloud floating overhead) seem to have been rewound and replayed. He recalled a recent maddening vacation trip during which he felt as if each place he visited he had already seen before.
At this point, doctors theorize that the episodes are related to his anxiety which “causes mistimed neuronal firing in the brain, which causes more déjà vu and in turn brings about more anxiety.” Nobody knows for certain exactly how or why déjà vu happens, but it is thought to be a phenomenon that arises from unusual activity within the temporal lobe of the brain. There is a theory that mistimed firing of neurons in the temporal lobe cause a temporary glitch in the processing of incoming information within the brain which results in the intense feeling of familiarity.
Academics from the UK, France and Canada have been called in to assist in the study of the bizarre case.