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!


  1. http://www.abc.net.au
  2. https://link.springer.com
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

Copyright © 2012-2020 Learning Mind. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint, contact us.

Like what you are reading?

Sign up to our list of over 50,000 subscribers and get thought-provoking updates to your inbox!

*We respect your privacy and promise we will never spam you with unwanted emails.