Investigators at the University of Leeds are launching a scientific study on the deja vu phenomenon:
Dr Chris Moulin first encountered chronic déjà vu sufferers at a memory clinic. “We had a peculiar referral from a man who said there was no point visiting the clinic because he’d already been there, although this would have been impossible.” The patient not only genuinely believed he had met Dr Moulin before, he gave specific details about the times and places of these ‘remembered’ meetings.
déjà vu has developed to such an extent that he had stopped watching TV – even the news – because it seemed to be a repeat, and even believed he could hear the same bird singing the same song in the same tree every time he went out. Chronic déjà vu sufferers are not only overwhelmed by a sense of familiarity for new experiences, they can provide plausible and complex justifications to support this. “When this particular patient’s wife asked what was going to happen next on a TV programme he’d claimed to have already seen, he said ‘how should I know? I have a memory problem!'” Dr Moulin said.
For the first time, those who suffer chronic déjà vu can help provide sustained research into the problem. “So far we’ve completed the natural history side of this condition – we’ve found ways of testing for it and the right clinical questions to ask. The next step is obviously to find ways to reduce the problem,” he said…
Chronic déjà vu can be distressing to the point of causing depression, and some sufferers have been prescribed anti-psychotics. But Dr Moulin’s group believe it is not a delusion, but a dysfunction of memory: “The challenge is to think about what this means. We can use it to examine the relationships between memory and consciousness.
“The exciting thing about these people is that they can ‘recall’ specific details about an event or meeting that never actually occurred. It suggests that the sensations associated with remembering are separate to the contents of memory, that there are two different systems in the brain at work.” Dr Moulin believes a circuit in our temporal lobe fires up when we recall the past, creating the experience of remembering but also a ‘recollective experience’ – the sense of the self in the past. In a person with chronic déjà vu this circuit is either overactive or permanently switched on, creating memories where none exist. When novel events are processed, they are accompanied by a strong feeling of remembering.
The story at the University of Leeds newsletter…