Have you ever found yourself stuck in an unexplained feeling of disconnection and eeriness when being faced with some seemingly familiar situation or thing? You could have had jamais vu.

The term jamais vu is used by psychologists and neuroscientists to define a mental effect in which a familiar situation makes you feel as if you experience it for the first time.

Thus, familiar objects, settings or people may seem odd and alien to you for a few moments. It happens even though your rational mind knows that it can’t be the first time you experience this situation.

You have probably experienced this weird mental state at least once in your life. The most typical example (even though the jamais vu itself is not typical at all) would be when you hear or utter a familiar word and it doesn’t feel real. Maybe it’s been a while since you used this word. Or it could be that you or someone else repeated it too many times. Suddenly, it feels like the word ceases to make any sense and you end up questioning its existence. Sounds familiar?

Jamais vu (from French – “never seen”) is quite a rare phenomenon that is often perceived as the opposite of its better-known counterpart – déjà vu (again, from French– “already seen”). Both are common in people with epilepsy and other neuropsychological conditions.

At the same time, the feelings and symptoms that accompany this mental effect have similarities with short-term memory loss. However, if you delve into the neurophysiology of these two conditions, there are striking differences between them.

For example, the jamais vu effect happens to a person suddenly and without a reason. At the same time, memory loss (even a short-term one) tends to have physiological causes (trauma, shock or neurological illness).

Here is another example of jamais vu:

Say you are having a conversation with a close friend. Suddenly, you feel as if every single bit of information you know about him disappears from your mind for a few moments in some inexplicable way. And thus, the person you actually know well now feels like a stranger. A few seconds later, everything comes back to normal.

This is what this vague mental state is about – it has no obvious causes. In fact, after the release of the movie “The Matrix”, neuroscientists sometimes joke that jamais vu and déjà vu are “glitches in the matrix”.

Another important thing about jamais vu is that the eeriness you feel applies only to the here and now. Your sense organs continue to transfer the information about what you see, hear, etc. through neural pathways. Still, the brain gets disconnected from reality. So if you think about it, jamais vu indeed looks like a computer system error.

Both mental phenomena seem to have a similar nature

The jamais vu, as well as its opposite phenomenon of déjà vu, still remains a mystery to science. The main challenge scientists face when studying these mental effects is that it is difficult – even though not impossible – to induce these states in the laboratory. For example, in order to cause jamais vu in study participants, researchers get them to write a common word multiple times in one minute.

In all, both phenomena have to do with the way our brain perceives the signals of familiarity and novelty. When we experience jamais vu or déjà vu, for some unknown reason, our brains fail to interpret these signals in the correct way. Neuroscientists also generally agree that both these mental states involve memory and information-processing centers of the brain.

Have you ever had jamais vu? If yes, please share your experience with us in the comment section below!

References:

  1. https://www.abc.net.au
  2. https://link.springer.com
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
Anna LeMind, B.A.

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This Post Has 14 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Michelle

    Very interesting article that explains a lot about my teenagers!

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    daniel55645

    I think i’ve only experienced it 1 time, but I’ve had some crazy deja vu moments

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    Isaid Juárez

    A great example of jamais vu is when you start repeating the same word over and over and the neurons for that effect can be over excited and suddenly, the word loses its meaning for a moment.

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    Nick

    I don’t know if i am getting Jamais Vu, or if this is something different. I get strange, short visions of random and out of place streams of memory that has not happened yet. Most come in dreams and are forgotten in seconds, but when it occurs sometimes, years later, I know immediately. From the looks of what Jamais Vu is, it seems to be the closest thing to it.

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      Sof

      sounds more like a deja vu..

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      Tammy Schoch

      How terrifying!

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      No.Lid

      Yeah!! I swear I’ve had dreams as a 4-8 year old that have been “coming true” for the past several years. What is this phenomenon? It feels like deja vu, but more like a premonition finally occurring. I don’t believe in foresight, but this creeps me out.

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    Tammy Schoch

    I have had epilepsy most of my life and I experience this at least once a day. It’s terrifying. I also have depression which has a side effect of derealization or depersonalization which is a lot like ja mai vu. I have told each doctor that I have epilepsy and depression so maybe they are confusing the symptoms but no one seems to care.

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    Michael Voelkel

    I have jamais Vu and I have gotten lost going to work.Was at a stop light and had no idea where I was until it turned green and when at work I somtimes have no idea where I am at for a few seconds

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    lya

    This is happening to me a lot now a days during class when during lecture I forget I’m suppose to stay focus but rather start doing something else and when the teacher calls out to me that’s when I remember I was in class this whole time I’m not sure if it’s related to this but js

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    Victoria

    I’ve had this happen A LOT, and at times I’ve come close to calling 911 because I’ve become petrified and frantic. I’ve had moments where I don’t recognize co-workers, they’re complete strangers to me. My episodes can last any where from 15 min to over an hour, hence why I want to call 911 at times.

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    Carlene

    I have had similar to this happen a few times when I was driving and had no idea where i was.
    The most scary time was when I was driving and was about to make a turn into a business. Suddenly I could not remember how to stop my car. I paniced and hit the gas trying to stop it. I went a very short way. Just as suddenly I remember it had a brake. I pulled off the road and sat for a short minute.
    A friend saw me go by from out the door and asked me where I was going. I simply told her I just forgot where I was going and guess I was heading to my boyfriend’s house.
    I was so upset after worrying if that could happen in traffic. The other times I was just lost but could still drive. I was truly terrified this time.

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    Michael S.

    As with commenter Carlene, my jamais vu experiences only occur while driving. What happens to me is that I am driving on very familiar roads, and I suspect I am so much on auto-pilot that I lose concentration, and all of a sudden do not know where I am. Now that this has happened a few times, the experience is familiar, so it isn’t frightening, and I know I’ll recognize my surroundings in a few seconds. Today I approached a T-intersection about a mile from home, and as I approached the “T,” I could not remember where I was. What made today’s experience noteworthy, however, was that I recognized the location as one where I had previously experienced jamais vu, and although I did not know specifically where I was, the “unknown” location was familiar because I remembered it from the one or two times previously when I had experienced jamais vu. So now the unknown is a pseudo-known to me. As usual, as soon as I turned at the “T,” guessing correctly that I needed to make a right turn, my surroundings became familiar, and jamais vu was over. Will this ever happen again at the same spot, and if it does will I “remember” the “unknown,” or will the process now be short-circuited? Stay tuned.

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    Melanie Loretdemola

    I have this happened to me at least once a year since I had 3 epileptic seizures in my 20s. After ten years of being on medication the doctors took them away since I had no more attacks and eventually I started having withdrawals symptoms regularly. Most of the time then I had periods of jamais vu. I would be driving or walking and suddenly it seemed as if I was watching a movie with no idea who I was or where I was until after a few minutes it came back to me. I would arrive at the place I was going instinctively and would not recognize !y co-workers or the building. Another time I would pick up the kids from school and found myself driving in circles in the am empty lot until one of my children noticed the strange behavior and yelled dad where are you going and I sort of woke up not knowing who they were. the funny thing is I can sence when it’s happening and I ask myself is this real or I am I dream it or am I somebody else watching this. I have gotten used to it and told my neurologist but he says is normal.

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