What is Déjà Vu? 8 Theories to Explore

You’re on a trip to a place you’ve never been before when suddenly you have a flash of recognition, as if you know what is going to be around the next corner.

Or maybe you are chatting with a friend when, in a fleeting moment, what you are looking at, hearing, feeling and thinking seems to spark a vague familiarity in your mind for no apparent reason.

What these moments have in common is that each depicts the inexplicable phenomenon known as déjà vu.

Déjà vu 

Déjà vu is a term used to describe the odd feeling one gets when a fresh experience somehow feels familiar. It puts the observer in a state of cognitive dissonance as they simultaneously experience something to be both new and old.

But what causes déjà vu, and why does it occur? Is there some hidden meaning in these experiences, or are they nothing more than a blip of the brain, a temporary hiccup in the mental synapses that power our minds?

This is a question people have been trying to answer for centuries; our fascination never ceasing due to the mystical quality of the experience.

It’s a difficult thing to study, as the incident is usually fleeting, occurs randomly and only to one person, therefore leaving no tangible evidence or witnesses to examine.

Yet déjà vu, French for “already seen”, has people from all walks of life attempting to explain what it is and what causes it. From scientists to psychics, from psychologist to philosophers, there seem to be as many theories about what déjà vu is as there are people to experience them.

To shed some light on the déjà vu mystery, here are 8 popular theories to explain the phenomenon known as déjà vu:

8 Theories to Explain Déjà Vu 


This theory is based on the idea that your subconscious mind is not confined by time or space. Deja vu is then explained as something your mind psychically foresaw before you physically experienced it. It’s as if you saw into the future. So, when you have the moment of déjà vu, your mind treats it as a memory, hence the familiar feeling you get.

Spiritual Significance

This explanation sees déjà vu as a message from the universe, granting a hidden meaning to the moment meant for only you.

Precognitive Dream

In this theory, déjà vu is a replay of a dream you’ve already had, therefore it is familiar to you.



Mental Illness

Déjà vu is attributed by some as an indication of mental illness, such as schizophrenia or dissociative identity disorder. However, given that studies have shown that most of the population experiences Deja vu at one time or another, this theory would indicate that most of us are mentally ill. Hopefully, this is not the case.


An odd word with an even odder connotation, cryptomnesia refers to a memory bias – a forgotten experience recorded in the subconscious as memory. The déjà vu experience, then, is a forgotten memory that seems like a new and original thought to the observer. In other words, you already had the same or similar experience, but simply forgot.

Brain synapses

Based on the occurrence of déjà vu in some epileptic patients right before a seizure, this theory attributes déjà vu to an overload of electrical activity of the neurons in the brain. It’s as though the brain experiences a small shock wave that evokes the odd sensations associated with déjà vu.

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Past life

This theory sees déjà vu as an experience you had before in a past lifetime. Perhaps you are now visiting somewhere you have been in another life, or are having a similar experience to one you had as someone else. This explains the feeling of – been there, done that – that defines déjà vu.

Parallel life

While the concept of parallel universes and parallel lives may seem like a science-fiction concoction, it is based in our current understanding of theoretical physics, such as quantum mechanics and string-theory.

In this view, there are an infinite number of possibilities to life experience and each possibility plays out a separate life apart from the one you know. This means that there are multiple versions of you, living out all the different choices you did not make in this life. The reason you believe yourself to be living only one of these possibilities as your current life is due to the focus of your awareness, or what the human consciousness is currently capable of perceiving at one time.

In keeping with this concept, déjà vu is an experience your subconscious has already had, or is currently experiencing, in a parallel life. So, the moment when déjà vu occurs feels familiar to you because your subconscious, the part of you that is infinite, has already experienced this moment – possibly more times than you can count.



What is Déjà vu to you?   

The fact that there are multiple theories about déjà vu is a testament to the commonality and the intrigue of the experience, yet this makes it even more difficult to explain. The trouble is that each theory was formed through the biased knowledge and belief system of its creator.

To a medical scientist, the theory of brain synapses probably makes the most sense, while to a Buddhist, the theory of past-lives may be the choice of explanation.

Meaning, like Déjà vu, is in the eye of the observer. Since it’s difficult to prove any of these theories, it’s up to the individual to decide how to explain it.  Which one do you choose?



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