Deja Vu

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Truly remarkable is that strange experience that comes over us suddenly and inexplicably: a feeling that what we are saying or doing or experiencing has been said or done or gone through before in a remote or indeterminate time.

Somehow, we sense that the overall gestalt of faces, objects, and everything that surrounds us in the present has surrounded us before, in exactly the same way, as if it were not new. Or we seem to know perfectly what will be said next, or what will happen next, as if the present moment were a living memory, unfolding before our eyes.

And most of us know that this is called ‘déjà vu’.


We have all some experience of a feeling that comes over us occasionally of what we are saying and doing having been said and done before, in a remote time—of our having been surrounded, dim ages ago, by the same faces, objects, and circumstances—of our knowing perfectly what will be said next, as if we suddenly remembered it. Charles Dickens in David Copperfield in 1850 (Dickens, 1950).


But it is not as easy as that. This French term translates literally as “already seen”. Yet, no psychological phenomenon has been explained in so many different ways, and none infringes on so many scientific disciplines (Neppe, 1983). And no phenomenon known to psychology and psychiatry has been so misunderstood. Déjà vu has impacted science, history and literature and the multitude of personal descriptions allows excursions into various scientific explanations. With this Internet Encyclopedia—Scholarpedia—article and its extended links, we hope to shed some light on the subject and reveal what the sciences of psychiatry, neurology, psychology and phenomenology have learned about this extraordinary experience. The formidable complexity of déjà vu challenges any single explanation.


To obtain a sense of priorities, we begin with a current summary of the first pertinent instances in the history of déjà vu (Table 1). These prioritize understanding how the area came about: particularly intriguing is the early literature and definitions.


Table 1: Historical firsts on the déjà vu phenomenon.

First described 2400 years ago

First book documenting the phenomenon in 1815

First poem 1854

Origin of the term: 1896 (officially, 1876 unofficially)

First thesis 1898

First unified scientific definition 1981


We now follow with a perspective on key information (Table 2). For example, there are 35 different kinds of descriptions of the experiences, and these have 71 different explanations. There are 8 broader classifications to fit déjà vu into, but the real research shows 5 different subtypes that have been demonstrated. There are currently three questionnaires used in research. There have only been a few doctoral theses and scientific books on deja vu, but the literature is very diverse in the area.


Table 2: Key overview of déjà vu

  • 35 different kinds of déjà experiences: Only 11 recognized kinds of déjà vu by 1979; 19 new terms developed by Neppe, including two independently by Funkhouser; 5 more esoteric terms from 1885 to 1910 were discovered in 2008.
  • 71 different proposed explanations
  • 8 broader different major phenomenological mechanisms (memory, ego-state, ego-defense, time distortion, recognition error, brain firing, subjective paranormal experience, reality misinterpretation)
  • 5 major possible nosological subtypes ( [4 proven by Neppe] Associative; SPE; Temporal lobe epileptic; Psychotic; unproven is Alzheimer’s [Moulin])
  • Five questionnaires (Neppe 1981 DVQ, and NDVQ 2006 ; Ito and then Funkhouser on Internet; Sno adapted Neppe: the IDEA)
  • 7 Doctoral theses (4 from 1898 to 1906; then large gap to 1981)
  • 7 Scientific books on déjà vu (4 by Neppe; 1 by Brown; Jones and Oesterle, ? scientific enough for this classification).

In this final part of our overview perspective, we examine the occurrence of the phenomenon. This data is based on empirical research.


Table 3: Occurrence Demographics

  • 2/3 of the population;
  • Lowest age for déjà vu is 4, or lowest documented is at age 5.
  • Across all ethnic groups, sexes, ages.

To the general public, déjà vu is a subjective experience of the ‘as if phenomenon (Neppe, 2010). It is “as if” something happened, but should not have. In its usual form, it involves the subjective impression that the present experience has happened before, even though it has not (Neppe, 2006a). The resulting familiarity is ‘inappropriate’: This often results in the perception that this should not have happened as it did—in “normal” individuals this may be an impression of perplexity, but in schizophrenia and seizures, for example, the impression may be the sense of differentness, and in those who claim psychic experiences, it may be more an awareness of the wonderment: The key is inappropriate familiarity.


Particularly relevant is the role of the brain and special interpretations of the environment in déjà vu. This has led to the major current perspectives relating to the quartet of epilepsy, schizophrenia, psychosis, and subjective paranormal experience.


Contents

What is Déjà Vu?

What is déjà vu? For the layperson, it is, technically, “as if I have already seen it before”. But in reality, it is far broader. (Neppe and Funkhouser 2006).

Déjà vu may literally mean already seen, but it can also mean already heard, already met, already visited, and numerous other ‘already’ experiences. It is not “I have done it before and I know exactly when; I recognize that I’m doing it again.” The reason why that is not déjà vu is because the recognition is consequent on a real familiarity; whereas with déjà vu, there is the inappropriate familiarity of the present experience—it doesn’t fit. Déjà vu is subjective, and the past must be undefined: If people specifically remember the origin of the experience, then it is not déjà vu.


There is a formal universally recognized scientific definition of déjà vu, ostensibly quoted in every major article on the subject. It derives originally from Neppe’s PhD (Med) thesis at the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa (Neppe, 1981a). Déjà vu is “any subjectively inappropriate impression of familiarity of the present experience with an undefined past.” Every one of these words is relevant and the definition should be revisited throughout this article. This definition was formally analyzed in detail in the landmark book on the subject The Psychology of Déjà vu: Have I been here before? (Neppe, 1983)


Historical firsts

The historical landmarks of Table 1 on déjà vu are worth noting:

  • The Roman poet, Publius Ovid reported that Pythagoras 2400 years ago supposedly described the phenomenon (Ovid, 5 CE), (Neppe, 2006e)
  • St Augustine was responsible for the first explanation of déjà vu some 1600 years ago (Neppe, 2006e), when he said it was due to some deceitful spirits (Saint-Augustine, 415 (circa)).
  • The first book referring to this phenomenon, was in Sir Walter Scott’s Guy Mannering in 1815 (Scott, 1815).
  • The first poetic mention was by Dante Gabriel Rossetti in his beautiful 1854 poem “Sudden Light” (Doughty, 1957) beginning:
I have been here before, But when or how I cannot tell: I know the grass beyond the door, The sweet keen smell, The sighing sound, the lights around the shore.


The first attempt at scientific explanation of this phenomenon comes from Arthur Wigan in 1844 in his book Duality of the Mind : He explained the phenomenon as delays in the different functions of the cerebral hemispheres (Clarke, 1987). Remarkably, this explanation is still today cited as one of the 71 different explanations.


The actual term déjà vu was coined by Emile Boirac in 1876 (Boirac, 1876), technically as ‘le sentiment du déjà vu’. The first serious work in the area may have been a doctoral thesis at the University of Paris, from Bernard Leroy on ‘fausse reconnaisance’ in 1898 (Bernhard-Leroy, 1898). Thibault’s followed in 1899 in Bordeaux, then two other theses followed in Paris by Tobolowska 1900 and Ables 1906 (Funkhouser, 2006b).

Thereafter, there were major gaps and the next two theses came only in 1981: Far the most comprehensive was Vernon Neppe’s PhD (Med) in South Africa in 4 volumes (Neppe, 1981a), and the same year saw Arthur Funkhouser’s Diploma thesis in Switzerland (Funkhouser, 1981) particularly focussing on dreams and déjà vu. Then followed Jansen’s doctorate in 1991 in Germany, and one by Sno in 1993 in Holland (Funkhouser, 2006b).

Before the Modern Era of Déjà Vu Research

There had been very little formal controlled research by 1979. One of the problems was that there was a lack of adequate definition, and a lack of consistency in screening for and eliciting déjà vu phenomena. This made data interpretation difficult, heterogeneous, and varied. (Neppe, 1981a, Neppe, 1983). Like was not compared with like, and speculation abounded as to causes and frequency.


By 1979, there was, however, certain known information on the topic:

  • The literature supported déjà vu occurring at least once in a lifetime in about two-thirds of ostensibly “normal” individuals. This statistic, as of today, still appears to be correct: Most have what Neppe describes as ‘Associative Déjà Vu’ (Neppe, 2006b).
  • Medically, déjà vu was regarded as common in patients with temporal lobe epilepsy. This is still true but reflects only a tiny proportion of déjà vu. (Neppe, 2006b, Neppe, 1981b) (Neppe and Bradu, 2006)
  • Those who reported subjective paranormal experiences frequently reported déjà vu, yet no adequate studies had been developed for this population. (Neppe and Bradu, 2006)

These three nosological conditions outline what turn out to be three major subtypes of déjà experience. The fourth is déjà vu in the psychotic. However, whether or not schizophrenics, for example, could actually be diagnosed on the basis of some of their peculiar interpretations of their experiences of déjà vu, was a legitimate question, but there was inadequate substantial data by 1979 even to hazard an opinion.


Another limiting factor before 1979 was that there were only 11 kinds of (what Neppe thereafter termed) “déjà experiences”. Common terms were, for example, déjà fait (already done), déjà pensé (already thought) and déjà raconté (already told), but it was difficult to describe the déjà phenomenon, because that classification was so incomplete: many more were, thereafter, elaborated.


The Modern Era of Déjà Vu Research

Importantly, déjà experiences do not reflect different kinds of déjà vu—they are not different sub-types, instead they are different circumstances described as déjà experiences. To add to the 11 previously described déjà experiences, Dr Neppe (1981) in South Africa described 10 more kinds, and coincidentally, Dr Funkhouser had also independently developed two of these terms in Switzerland. By 2006, Neppe had added 8 more and another in 2009. This makes for 30 known terms, but ironically Funkhouser and Neppe subsequently discovered 5 more from a century ago (Neppe, 2010). These are not used today.

For proper research to be performed, another problem needed to be addressed: As of 1979, there were no adequate screening questionnaires for the phenomenon. Most déjà vu studies were based on only a single question and that varied markedly. Neppe developed an 11-point Screening Questionnaire based on the known different deja experiences, and those answering positively were then subject to a detailed 57 main point structured interview resulting in phenomenological analyses of their experiences. The accumulated data were further subdivide and pooled into different phenomenological subtypes. This data was subjected to multidimensional scaling analysis by mean and median column geometry in 22 different dimensions: The four groups were found to separate from one another very well supporting the expected hypotheses—coincidentally, they were even distributed in each of the 4 different quadrants on the median geometry. These four phenomenological subtypes of déjà vu correspond to diagnostic and nosological categories (Neppe, 1981a, Neppe, 1983).

These results confirmed that there are four separate distinct specific nosological subtypes of déjà vu, occurring in the equivalent population, namely:

  • Temporal Lobe Epileptic Déjà vu. This is qualitatively different from other epileptics and temporal lobe dysfunction patients who exhibit the same déjà vu qualities as ‘normal’ populations.
  • Psychotic déjà vu studied in the schizophrenics group where the sheer bizarreness and elucidation of psychotic thought, creates a potential further research area to elicit psychosis in individuals who are supposedly in remission.
  • Subjective paranormal experience déjà vu in those who using specific subjectively validated criteria claimed to have ‘psychic’ experiences, but it neither confirms nor denies the objective validity of their experience. And:
  • Associative déjà vu in a common garden ‘ostensibly normal’ group, and where the déjà vu is associated with a perplexity and generally not a profound degree of intensity.

And so, effectively, the modern era of déjà vu research had begun, with the first major phenomenological analysis of this phenomenon.

The Neppe work was described in his four-volume Doctor of Philosophy thesis in 1981 (Neppe, 1981a) and in the first academic book on déjà vu in 1983 (Neppe, 1983). These details and significant newer information were further amplified in the so-called ‘Trilogy’ of 3 books in 2006 (Neppe, 2006b, Neppe, 2006a, Neppe and Funkhouser 2006). There were still many terms that needed clarification, and a glossary was needed, particularly as deja is written with accents in French, so locating data was more challenging. (Neppe, 2006b)

To these four déjà vu books by Dr Neppe is added one by Dr Alan Brown in 2004 (Brown, 2004), but effectively this book focused on the Neppe subtype of Associative Déjà Vu, largely rejecting any other kind and doubting Subjective Paranormal Experience Déjà Vu could occur even though this is a subjective description by the subject, just as hallucinations are. Its lack of versatility therefore limits the strengths of this book, which, inter alia, details novel ways of examining memory and related topics, and this is one key déjà area to examine in ostensibly normal subjects.

Later Moulin (Moulin et al., 2005) described what may be another distinct subtype of déjà vu in Alzheimer’s, but the descriptions may not fit the recognized definition of déjà vu.

These five subtypes though qualitatively different can theoretically and sometimes in practice overlap because people may have more than one subtype.

But the phenomenological research proceeds. Neppe’s questionnaire has been updated by Neppe himself, including all the later described deja experiences and increasing the demographic base (Neppe, 2006c, Neppe, 2006d, Neppe, 2007). It was also modified by Hermann Sno as the IDEA (Sno, 2000, Sno et al., 1994). Kai Ito (Neppe, 2006c) and Funkhouser have also added short screens for Internet research (Funkhouser, 2006a).

The déjà vu phenomenon: Towards a definition and beyond

The terms relating to the déjà vu phenomenon are remarkable for its variety: it

  • derives from a foreign language (French),
  • involves more neologisms than in any other study discipline, and
  • has been a major source of personal interest and research for me.

The French term, déjà vu, is the most familiar déjà experience. It was originally one of several different competing terms. Some were tongue-tying alternatives conveying rela-tively equivalent meanings, though with more limited meanings, for example, fausse mémoire may be pertinent if this were indeed a ‘false memory (Table 4).

Table 4:
Term Author Year Lang. Comment English
fausse reconnaissance Bernhard-Leroy, Laurent, Freud 1984 French Recognition and memory links false recognition
fausse mémoire Biervliet, Heymans, false memory
le sentiment du déjà vu Boirac 1876 Original déjà vu term the feeling of the already seen
sensation du déjà vu Arnaud 1896 Sensation of already seen
souvenir du présent Bergson Remembrance of the present
reconnaissance des phénomènes nouveaux Bourdon Recognition of new phenomena
falsa intuizione di ricordo Montesano Italian False intuition of remembrance
Erinnerungsfälschunges Kraepelin German false memory
Fälschen Wiedererkennens Lehmann and Linwurzky German falsify recognizing

These terms have largely been consigned to the dusty archives of forgotten history. (Neppe, 2006c, Neppe, 2006e, Neppe, 2006a, Neppe, 2006b, Neppe, 2006f). They have not been used because they have no advantage over the used term. However, ironically, no-one was using just the plain term déjà vu itself without elaborations, and it was abbreviated from souvenir du présent and sensation du déjà vu.

Déjà Vu—literally ‘already seen’—refers to any on the generic déjà experiences. Neppe’s definition is now universally used “any subjectively inappropriate impression of familiarity of the present experience with an undefined past.” (Neppe, 1983)

Are the different forms of déjà vu so different that we needed to coin new terms for what we were generically calling déjà experiences? Two key pretenders to déjà vu itself are:

  • déjà éprouvé meaning already experienced, felt, attempted or tried: This fails as a broad generic term because ‘experienced’ here is in the sense of attempted or tried (Neppe, 2006c) and
  • déjà vécu implying already lived through, fully experienced or recollected. It is an intense experiential term but fails because ‘experienced’ here is the sense of fully experienced or recollected or lived through, so it would exclude much déjà vu.

The subjective perception

People who experience the sensation, for instance, while traveling to an unfamiliar country during a vacation, usually react to the sensation by saying, “It was ‘as if’ I had been there before.” Consequently, déjà vu is not something in which you believe or disbelieve, in the sense of how you believe in a supreme being, or in good and evil. It is primarily a personal experience, and just as non-objectifiable as subjectively perceiving a voice inside one’s head, or of having spontaneous but unprovable intuitive impressions during everyday life. It can be poetically described as the “present turning into the past.” But no matter how we conceive of the experience, we cannot really prove it is occurring, since only the person experiencing the sensation knows it is happening. Déjà vu exists solely within the percipient’s inner reality. (Neppe, 2006d) (Neppe, 2006c, Neppe, 2006e, Neppe, 2006f)

Based on the vast literature, Neppe (1981) developed an operational definition of déjà vu, that has become universally accepted, namely: Any subjectively inappropriate impression of familiarity of the present experience with an undefined past. Each one of these words are needed and there application has been carefully analyzed. (Neppe, 1983, Neppe, 1981)

Neppe’s term ‘déjà experience’ is more correct as it pertains to any of the déjà circumstances, not just the seen—the ‘vu’. Hearing something for the first time—déjà entendu, or the rationalizing of the inappropriate familiarity, for example, by “I must have dreamt this before”— déjà rêvé, makes ‘déjà experience’ more correct than ‘déjà vu’ when the déjà experience may not be ‘seen’ at all. Importantly, any of these terms may be applied to any subtype of déjà experience, for example, theoretically any of these kinds of experiences can occur in ‘normals’ or ‘temporal lobe epileptic’ or ‘psychotic’ or ‘subjective paranormal experients’, though some of these terms may be more common in certain subtypes—for example, already lived through something could be more intense than a vague just ‘already heard’ it before, and this may affect its distribution in different subtypes.

Towards a scientific definition

Déjà vu is a subjective experience that can be examined on many levels, such as misuse, logical explanation, personal descriptions, historical reviews of philosophical and literary speculations, and various scientific standpoints.

"It was as if I had been there before." What does such a description really imply? This very basic and simple question (yet strangely difficult one to answer) about this fascinating phenomenon led Neppe to research déjà vu examining all the literature and research in the area and developing a strategy for answering the key questions.

Thirty five déjà experiences; four nosological subtypes

Despite the wide scope of the déjà vu experiences, the term is often used incorrectly. The metaphorical or purely journalistic use of the term déjà vu can sometimes represent a sophisticated way of saying, “I get the impression history is repeating itself.” So when Ronald Ronald Reagan once suggested a political innovation originally voiced by a predecessor 20 years before, an erudite reporter, and described his sense of “déjà vu” in his story. The most extreme form of this popular and frequent misuse recently appeared in an advertisement for a lady’s dress. The garment had previously been in fashion, so when it was reintroduced to the fashion world and to the public, the newspaper ads emblazoned this reoccurrence with a headline heralding it as a major event of déjà vu. Much of this misuse of the term is simply playful, with no intentions to have any concrete relevance to the experience of déjà vu itself. (Neppe, 2009)

Many times, however, the layperson has been misled to think that certain experiences are déjà vu when, in fact, they don’t conform to even basic criteria for the phenomenon. A person may, for example, think that when he experiences a present moment in relation to a definite past event he remembers, this is déjà vu, when it is most emphatically not, since one cornerstone of déjà vu is that the past to which the present is related must be undefined.

A review of the literature on, and study of, the variegated nature of déjà vu helps to clarify the abundant potential for mistaken identification of aspects in the nebula of déjà vu with déjà vu proper. Indeed, one major contributor to these misapprehensions is the fact that déjà vu ‘proper’ is a phenomenon that is remarkably complex and difficult to pinpoint. Another major contributor to déjà vu illiteracy is the general dearth of any suitable overview of déjà vu which could serve as a pedagogical resource both for the layperson and for the scientist—a deficiency this Scholarpedia subsection hopes to ameliorate (Neppe, 2006d, Neppe, 2006e, Neppe, 2006a, Neppe, 2006f).

Whereas the improper use of déjà vu—whether playful or sincerely misguided —may come to be regarded by lexicographers as alternative usage and therefore, in effect, socially correct, the scientist must still tread well-worn pathways of applying conventional, research-appropriate definitions to borderline instances of this strangely inappropriate impression. And, although this sort of improper use may seem harmless, scientists will continue to insist on delimiting the use of the term. (Neppe, 2009)

The phenomenon of déjà vu should be, in its workable definition, accorded the widest possible latitude for research as long as that definition is grounded in rigorous scientific study. On the other hand, any definition must also be dynamic and capable of resilience in the face of new data.

Deja experiences and terminology

Déjà vu translates literally as ‘already seen’ but it is a generic term referring to any of the déjà circumstances. Hence the term ‘experience’—any kind of ‘as if’ not just the seen—the ‘vu’ is technically more correct. (Neppe, 2006c) Though any of the 36 ‘déjà experience’ terms are, in practice or theoretically, used, none are exclusive to any subtype of déjà experience, for example, theoretically the subtypes of ‘temporal lobe epileptic’ (TLE) or ‘psychotic’ déjà vu. Thus, any kind of déjà experience could happen to anyone.

Nevertheless, some of these 36 circumstances may be more common in certain subtypes: The average individual may sometimes have, for example, an ‘already visited’ experience when coming to a new place for the first time: déjà visité. Our data have been that this is far less likely in, for example, in the pure TLE déjà vu subtype.

These déjà experiences can be used as phenomenological points for analyses: if the further description of the déjà visité was a vague awareness that this place had been visited before, but the percipient did not know where or when, and was perplexed about it, this would fit what Neppe calls ‘Associative déjà vu’ provided other criteria do not exist such as psychotic features or epileptic links or specific prediction knowledge. (Neppe, 2010, Neppe, 2011 , Neppe, 2006a, Neppe, 1983b, Neppe, 1981)

On the other hand, some circumstances may be very linked with specific subtypes of déjà vu. For example, in déjà ésotérique, there may be special unusual, sometimes idiosyncratic referential significances often linked with the subtype of Psychotic déjà vu. Or in déjà après —the already after experience—there may a sequence of stereotypical symptoms sometimes found in Temporal Lobe Epilepsy déjà vu. By comparison, in déjà rétrosenti—already sensed backward in time there may be a reanimation of living into the past going backward in time more common in the subtype of Subjective Paranormal Experience déjà vu (Neppe, 2006c).

These déjà vu experiences are all still subjective, not objectively proven, but give insights into the different ways the generic déjà vu may manifest. To be classified as a déjà vu experience, they must all fit Neppe’s (universal) operational definition of déjà vu, namely “any subjectively inappropriate impression of familiarity of the present experience with an undefined past.” (Neppe, 1983b)

We now examine the 36 different described kinds of déjà vu experiences, giving a brief historical perspective about these terms. There are five phases:

  • The pre-modern era (before 1979) 11 terms
  • The major active phenomenological research era (1979-1981 of Neppe’s work) 10 terms.
  • The new terms till 2006 (when Neppe wrote his trilogy of books) (9 terms)
  • The post-2006 era of terminology (1 new term)
  • The newly discovered by Funkhouser and Neppe (2009-2010), old but unused terms (5 terms)

Phase 1: The pre-modern era (before 1979)

By the time Neppe’s research began in the late 1970s, there were already eleven known déjà terms, all decades old, thought to derive from the 1890s to 1910. One delectable term déjà voulu—already desired— was purely theoretical as a true example of déjà vu experience. It remains a silent exception, as it was never described empirically though it could be. Today, we would require such a term to be described in practice before accepting it as a new term.

déjà vu—already seen (traditional original global term for all déjà experiences) (Boirac, 1876)

  • déjà entendu —already heard
  • déjà éprouvé —already experienced, felt, attempted or tried
  • déjà fait—already done
  • déjà pensé—already thought
  • déjà raconté —already recounted [already told]
  • déjà senti—already felt emotionally, smelt
  • déjà su—already known (intellectually)
  • déjà trouvé—already found (met)
  • deja vécu—already lived through, fully experienced / recollected in its entirety Lalande in 1893 (Lalande, 1893)
  • déjà voulu—already desired [already wanted]

We don’t know exactly who developed most of these terms. They almost certainly were derived by French writers in the decades of the 1890s and 1900s.

Phase 2: The major phenomenological research era (1979-1981 Neppe’s work)

Between 1979 to 1981, Neppe described 10 more different kinds of déjà vu experiences in his PhD thesis (Neppe, 1981). These terms were developed after a thorough literature review combined with his own empirical research. He found that there were several other common kinds of déjà experience that had not yet been categorized 10 . He realized that for legitimate research, we needed a more adequate vocabulary of subtypes of déjà vu.

He invented ten more “déjà experience terms”. Not being a native French speaker, he consulted Prof. B. G. Rogers, Professor of French at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa in1981.

In this context, Neppe wrote: “At times the demarcation is artificial, as the déjà experience can coexist in more than one of the above categories.” (Neppe, 1983b)

Sometimes terms are very similar and choices had to be made. So, for example, Neppe’s déjà rencontré appears preferable to the older déjà trouvé for most ‘already met’ experiences because it usually relates to interpersonal situations, not so much to more inanimate situations of ‘finding’ where déjà trouvé would be preferable.

  • déjà arrivé—already happened
  • déjà connu—already known (personal knowing)
  • déjà dit—already said/spoken (content of speech)
  • déjà goûté—already tasted
  • déjà lu—already read
  • déjà parlé—already spoken (act of speech)
  • déjà pressenti—already ‘sensed’ / ‘precognized’ [as in “knew” it would happen; a presentiment]
  • déjà rencontré—already met; specifically relates to interpersonal situations
  • déjà rêvé—already dreamt
  • déjà visité—already visited [a locality]

By a felicitous coincidence, déjà visité and déjà rêvé were independently developed in theses by Dr Art Funkhouser at the Carl Jung Institute in Switzerland and Dr Neppe in 1981. 12 Both are very relevant terms because they could reflect the subjective variants of subjective paranormal experiences (SPEs) or “normal” individuals. (Neppe, 1981, Neppe, 1983b, Neppe, 2006c).

However, ironically, in 2010, our search backward for old unrecognized déjà vu terms —“I must have dreamt it, and now it’s happening”— showed Alfred Fouillee use déjà rêvé in 1885! (Funkhouser, 1981, Funkhouser 1983)

Based on the experience of both Neppe and Funkhouser, déjà rêvé, déjà visité and déjà rencontré may be the déjà experiences most commonly described (Neppe, 2006a). But no specific appropriate epidemiological surveys have been done.

Phase 3: The new terms of 2006 (9 terms)

Like all neologisms, new déjà vu terms must be valuable for their significant empirical or theoretical scientific phenomenological contributions. The older ‘déjà experiences’ (itself, a neologism developed by Neppe in 1979) traditionally derived from French terms: We have continued this application but strangely the French has been used this time by native English speakers—Neppe and Funkhouser (Neppe, 2006c).

In 2006, Vernon Neppe began the long, arduous process of updating his original 1983 book on déjà vu (“The Psychology of Déjà Vu” (Neppe, 1983b) to “Déjà Vu Revisited” (Neppe, 2006a) ), updating the literature (“Déjà vu: A Second Look” with Dr Funkhouser as subeditor (Neppe and Funkhouser 2006) ) and creating a glossary and bibliography, “Déjà vu: Glossary and Library” (Neppe, 2006b). This trilogy of books has became the standard scientific reference work on the topic(Neppe, 2010).

This terminology review process was fruitful in many ways reflecting Neppe’s and also Art Funkhouser’s continual updated rethinking of the topic.

Neppe realized we needed nine more kinds of déjà experience— borne from necessity (Neppe, 2006c), (Neppe and Bradu, 2006):

  • déjà paradoxe—already paradoxical : This reflects how the exact déjà differentness feels familiar. This emphasizes the phenomenological derealization, common in TLE déjà vu.
  • déjà après— already after: This reflects the post-ictal/ seizure experiences, often the sequence of stereotypical symptoms sometimes found in seizures
  • déjà ésotérique—already esoterically perceived: This describes the special significances. It is often psychotic describing the unusual, sometimes idiosyncratic special referential experiences sometimes reflected in the schizophrenic spectrum.
  • déjà rétrosenti—already sensed as a reanimation of living into the past going backward in time. This balances déjà pressenti in the time distortion context.
  • déjà halluciné— already hallucinated: I’ve hallucinated this before. This is a rare intriguing déjà hallucinatory experience, not necessarily part of the ‘psychotic déjà vu’ subtype as it can have an organic base and may ultimately reflect a new déjà vu subtype.
  • déjà touché—already touched. This is a physical sensation and completes all the déjà experiences of all physical senses.

Neppe further realized there were three ordinary déjà experiences that needed to be included (Neppe and Bradu, 2006), namely:

  • déjà mangé—already eaten, chewed
  • déjà musique— already heard or played specific music or sung
  • déjà chanté—already sung

Phase 4: The post-2006 era of terminology (1 new term)

Neppe then invented one more déjà experience in 2009 based on a description that otherwise did not fit (Neppe, 2010).

  • Déjà préconnaître—already precognized. This describes ‘psychics’ who feel they have had the same future impression before although realistically knowing this was incorrect.

Thus, there were 31 official different déjà experiences described. These are not different kinds of déjà vu. Again, these are not different phenomenological sub-types likely reflecting different diagnostic categories. Instead they are different circumstances described as déjà experiences.

Phase 5: The newly discovered old but unused terms (5 terms)

Ironically enough, while re-examining the old literature beginning during August 2009, Funkhouser (and to a lesser degree Neppe) located some unused century-old deja experiences: There are five rather unusual terms that we do not use today, and they are five older déjà vu experiences deriving from French terms used in the 1890s and 1900s.

  • déjà prevu— already foreseen; from Bernhard-Leroy in 1898.
  • déjà revécu—already lived through or already relived; from Peillaube 1910
  • déjà percu—already perceived; from Vignolli 1894
  • déjà passé—already passed; from Lalande (Neppe, 2010).
  • déjà articulé—already articulated; from Lamaître in 1908.

Some of these terms have close relationships with modern terms. Déjà prevu may be similar to déjà pressenti and we have the English word “previewing”. Déjà revécu may be similar to déjà vécu: This could imply the subjective experiencing of reincarnation —this does not express opinions on the genuineness of the subjective impression: it may be a subgroup of the déjà vécu as the latter term means not only one has already lived through it, but one can fully experience and recollect it entirely. Déjà vécu would reflect both a relived experience and a recollected-entirely experience (Neppe, 2010), (Neppe, 2009)

If we had modern day examples they would be directly incorporated into modern use. Certainly, they are useful. Should we be using these terms, or is there not a place for duplicating information? We could debate that.

Rather ironically, too, the term déjà rêvé developed as “already dreamt” by both Neppe and Funkhouser in 1981— “I must have dreamt it, and now it’s happening”—produced in our search backward, a mention of it by Alfred Fouillee in 1885 was found (Neppe, 2010).

Technically, therefore, we have 36 terms, of which 31 déjà experiences are still used. Any of the numerous new terms in déjà vu must be valuable with significant empirical or theoretical scientific contributions.

Clearly, there is substantial misuse of the déjà term in common usage. Most commonly, the critical metaphor relates to a well-remembered by all previous event was, as in when the same event happens again in sport, or to a politician. Obviously, déjà vu is frequently employed inappropriately in these misleading journalistic or metaphorical contexts, for example, and is scientifically inappropriate.

There have also been jokes linked with it. These are for fun, not science. They serve only one purpose: humor. They are neither parsimonious, nor the simplest most logical explanation, nor are they educational or scientific (Neppe, 2009). They are added here as examples of the lighter side of déjà vu (Mineart, 2005)— jokingly what it isn’t (Mineart, 2005):

  • Déjà boo: The feeling that I’ve been frightened like this before
  • Déjà coup: The feeling my government has been overthrown like this before.
  • Déjà do: The feeling my hairdresser has given me this cut before.
  • Déjà eau: the feeling I’ve smelled this perfume before.

These terms are unacceptable neologisms because they serve only one purpose—humor. They are neither parsimonious nor educational. By contrast, the scientific approach has postulated numerous logical scientific explanations for the mechanism of déjà vu.

For completeness in our terminology discussion, we move briefly from the 36 kinds of déjà experiences. These are used in questions pertaining to the different déjà subtypes. These terms therefore have become part of the most comprehensive questionnaire on the topic (Neppe, 2006e, Neppe, 2006d). Otherwise, we may remain unaware of their presence particularly in patients with four other Neppe terms reflecting these subtypes:

  • Psychotic Déjà Vu,
  • Temporal Lobe Epileptic Déjà Vu ( TLE déjà vu) specifically in temporal lobe seizures)
  • Subjective Paranormal Experience Déjà Vu in subjective paranormal experients, and
  • Associative Déjà Vu in ostensible normals— the common garden subtype in ordinary individuals.

These, for historical completeness, are the 4 legitimate, neologisms reflecting the different nosological categories—the subtypes—of déjà experience Neppe described. Each of these four occur with specific features, in different subpopulations, and are nosologically distinct implying possible different causalities for each (Neppe, 1983a, Neppe and Bradu, 2006, Neppe and Funkhouser, 2006).

Neologisms have relevance and meaning. The different subtypes of déjà experience incorporate all these different new terms allowing for further research in this fascinating area.

We welcome any descriptions of new circumstances for déjà experiences. However, this must be accompanied by as much detail as possible and attested by the percipient to have occurred exactly as described.

References

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*Vernon M. Neppe, MD, PhD, FRSSAf, BN&NP, DFAPA, MMed, DPsM, FFPsych, FRCPC-10 is Director, Pacific Neuropsychiatric Institute, Seattle, WA; Adjunct Professor, Dept of Neurology and Psychiatry, St. Louis University, St. Louis, MO; Executive Director, and Distinguished Professor, Exceptional Creative Achievement Organization; Fellow of the Royal Society (South Africa); Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association; and author of four books on the déjà vu phenomenon.

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