By the term “jamais vu” psychologists mean a phenomenon in which a person perceives a familiar situation as if he was confronted with it for the first time. Familiar objects and people become completely strange to him for a few minutes.
Quite often, the jamais vu phenomenon (from French jamais vu – “never seen”) is compared with short-term memory loss. Symptomatic effects are really similar, but if you delve into the neurophysiological subtleties of the issue, there are striking differences between these concepts.
First, the jamais vu condition happens to a person suddenly and without cause, while a loss of memory (even a brief one) always has physiological causes (trauma, shock).
Here is an example of a typical jamais vu: during a conversation with a close friend all information about him as if erased from memory for a few minutes in some inexplicable way. And a well-known person is perceived as a stranger. Some time later, everything comes back to normal. This is the essence of the phenomenon – it has neither obvious causes nor consequences. After the release of the film “The Matrix” even doctors jokingly started calling jamais vu (as well as deja vu) “error in matrix”.
The second key difference is that as a result of the loss of memory the person forgets anything and anyone, any episode of his past or present life. At the same time, the jamais vu phenomenon applies only to the here and now. Eyes continue transferring information about what they see, but the brain for some time is “disconnected” from receiving this information. So in a certain sense it really resembles a computer system error.
The jamais vu phenomenon, as well as its opposite phenomenon deja vu, to this day remains a mystery to scientists. The main difficulty in studying these phenomena is that they cannot be created artificially or simulated in the laboratory.
However, some neuroscientists tend to explain both phenomena by inconsistencies in the interaction between the two parts of the brain responsible for memory and perception of information. In contrast to the deja vu phenomenon, jamais vu is ten times less common.