4 Lesser Known Forms Of 'Déjà Vu' That You've Probably Felt Before

Research shows that 'déjà vu' isn't limited to the cliche that it's known for, but has many different forms.

Mark Travers, Ph.D.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | March 01, 2024

We've all felt it at some point or another—the eerie feeling of familiarity during an experience that's actually happening for the first time. This strange phenomenon, known as "déjà vu," has eluded academics for centuries. From neurologists to psychologists, none seem to be able to pinpoint its causes and mechanics.

Strangely enough, research shows that the enigma of déjà vu has more layers than what was previously understood. While many are familiar with déjà vu and what it entails, many are unaware that déjà vu is, in fact, an umbrella term for an array of uncanny feelings–many of which you've likely felt before, without ever realizing.

The following four branches of déjà vu are equally strange and maddening as their parent form, and psychologists are now trying to understand them.

1. Jamais Vu

Imagine Kate, who has been living in her current neighborhood for years. Yet, one evening, as she walked home from work, everything suddenly seemed strangely unfamiliar. The houses, the trees, even the street signs appeared alien to her, as if she'd never seen them before. Despite her repeated journeys along this route, she couldn't shake the eerie feeling of unfamiliarity, leaving her disoriented and unsettled.

If you've ever shared the same uncanny feeling of unfamiliarity as Kate, you've likely experienced jamais vu. According to research from the journal of Nature Neuroscience, jamais vu is regarded as the opposite of déjà vu. Directly translated to "never seen," jamais vu occurs when a familiar situation or experience feels unfamiliar or strange, as if somehow being encountered for the first time.

According to the researchers, the feeling of jamais vu is thought to arise from disruptions in the brain's recognition processes. In typical situations, incoming sensory information is matched against stored memories, leading to a sense of familiarity or recognition. However, in jamais vu, this matching process somehow fails to occur, resulting in the spooky perception of unfamiliarity.

2. Presque Vu

Imagine Alex, who was enjoying a game night with friends. During a lively trivia round, Alex suddenly found himself unable to recall the name of an actor from his favorite movie. Despite racking his brain and feeling on the brink of remembering, the actor's name remained frustratingly elusive. Although his friends offered suggestions and clues, Alex remained on the precipice of recalling, yet still knew the answer was just out of reach.

If you've felt this maddening phenomenon, then you've experienced presque vu. Also known as the "tip-of-the-tongue" phenomenon, presque vu–meaning "almost saw"–occurs when an individual feels on the verge of recalling a specific word, name or idea, but is unable to retrieve it, despite effort.

According to research from Current Directions in Psychological Science, these moments often occur suddenly, with little warning. Some studies propose that these moments of near-insight arise from recognizing analogies between unsolved problems and past experiences. However, in the absence of identifying the specific memory in question, the frustrating feeling of being on the edge of an epiphany can occur.

3. Déjà Rêvé

Imagine Emily, who woke up from a vivid dream feeling shaken and disoriented. Later that day, while visiting a new café with friends, she suddenly felt a strange sense of familiarity wash over her. The ambiance, the aroma of coffee, even the conversations around her seemed to echo fragments of her dream. In that moment, Emily felt profoundly confused, as if the lines between her dream world and waking reality were blurred.

If you have felt like you've lived a strange re-enactment of a dream, then you've shared Emily's experience of déjà rêvé. Translating to "already dreamed," déjà rêvé refers to the sensation of experiencing a current situation or event that feels like a memory from a dream, mysteriously mixing our waking realities and dream recalls into one.

Déjà rêvé is thought to occur when neural patterns or activations similar to those of a past dream are triggered during waking consciousness, according to research from the journal Brain Stimulation. This can lead to an eerie sense of familiarity or resonance with the content of the dream, despite the experience being perceived as occurring during waking reality.

4. Déjà Vecu

Imagine Mark, who stood at the edge of the cliff, overlooking the vast expanse of a canyon below. As he gazed out at the rugged landscape, a flood of memories consumed him. He felt as though he had stood in this exact spot before–experiencing the same sights, sounds and emotion. Despite knowing well that he had never visited this location, Mark couldn't overcome the overwhelming sense of familiarity, as if reliving a moment from his past.

What Mark experienced is known as déjà vécu, and you wouldn't be alone if you've felt this before either. Meaning "already lived," déjà vécu refers to the sensation of reliving a past experience or memory in vivid detail, often accompanied by a strong emotional response and sense of disorientation—as if our personal timelines have been disordered.

According to research from Cognitive Neuropsychiatry, this common yet strange phenomenon occurs when the brain's memory retrieval processes are activated in response to current stimuli, leading to re-experiencing past events as if they were happening in the present moment. Emotional arousal, context clues and integration of sensory information all contribute to the intensity and realism of déjà vécu experiences.

If these explanations seem unsatisfactory, you share the same sentiment as many neuroscientists and psychologists. Despite efforts to decode the cognitive processes behind these deja-experiences, we often fail to fully capture the jarring and unique nature of these phenomena in the moment.

The enigmatic quality of these experiences continues to fascinate researchers and laypeople alike, serving as a stark reminder of the boundless mysteries housed within the human mind.

Do certain sensory and perceptual experiences catch you off guard? Test whether you're predisposed to ASMR elicitors by taking the evidence-based ASMR Trigger Checklist.

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