Déjà Vu? The ‘been there, done that’ feeling

Read this article in Psychology Today – Why Do Some of Us Get Déjà Vu More Often Than Others? – and thought I’d share a few thoughts and experiences. I did reply there, but I thought it might interest folk here as well.

As an advisory, if you are studying this phenomenon, I’m over 50 and my deja vu’s are frequent enough to be annoying. Not like a fleeting moment on waking every blue moon, but intrusively so in my waking hours and allowing me time to reflect on them. A lot. Over several decades.

It should also be noted that I also have a long history of depression and mental health problems, a ridiculously high IQ and am studying psychology myself (amongst several other topics), gettings grades for papers in the high 80’s and 90’s.

Déjà Vu

I can recall one or two that proved to be prescient, to the point of who, when (to within minutes) and why. (1)

I can recall in the past many such events when I’ve felt sure the phone was about to ring and knew who it would be and answered accordingly, much to the callers amazement. (2)

And so many regular Deja Vu that it’s frankly annoying! (3) (4) (5)

With that in mind:

1) I still recall this event with crystal clarity for three reasons: It’s sharpness, I wrote it down in detail and put the note inside a book and waited for them to arrive, and the stunned look on their faces when I told them to take a book off the shelf and open it – and it was all typed out as it happened.

So, true precognition? Or, perhaps, we’d all discussed meeting the previous night (in a club) and all of us completely forget, with a little help from alcohol. So, was it a psychic Deja Vu – or was it simply a case that something triggered a memory and I wrote it down and the others were just too drunk to have remembered we’d actually arranged it, but had nonetheless retained the feeling of, "Let’s go round his this afternoon".

2) Classic case of a filing draw problem:
We recall the times when the Deja Vu was right and file it away in our memory – but blindly ignore all the occasions when we had the same feeling and were completely wrong.

Another aspect is that of ignorance or denial:

I sense Sam will call in a minute, I can feel it, it’s like, I dunno, this moment happened before.

Dude, you have like two friends, me, and Sam, and I’m here; if it does ring, who the hell is it likely to be?

Obviously this was decades ago, before we started getting 20 or 30 cold-callers ringing up all hours of the day and night trying to sell us windows, PPIs and scammers trying to get our bank/computer access details!

3) I have no concept of time and a very repetitive life. Enough that when the Deja Vu’s do throw me off-kilter and I can get my bearings and think, "Ah yes, been here before, it was sunny that day too, I’m just thinking about the same fantasy plot in my head". The times I can’t analyse it like that, perhaps it’s the same thing, but I don’t remember the why of it.

4) Then there’s the really weird Deja Vu’s when you visit a place you’ve never been before and know your way around. Trust me, it really freaks your grandparents out when they take you a place they know well and they make a wrong turn and you – at just 6 or 7-years old – correct them and say, "No, we need to go left!" True story as it happens, at Chester Zoo (England). Perhaps, though, I’d seen the large map of the zoo on entering and while they had got turned around I still recognised the trees and enclosures and held the map in my head.


And if you do the same in a new city? Again, maybe, even though you haven’t studied a map you’ve seen one and something triggers a memory and, without associating the map, you think: I’ve been here before; I need the second right.

There is another factor, which may increase as you get older: familiarity based on experience. You visit a new town, even in a foreign country you are seeing for the first time and, for no reason, get whacked on the head with a Deja Vu. That feeling again, of ‘I’ve been here before’ and, much to the annoyance of your family you drag them off down a side street because you just ‘know’ there’s a cafe or a curio shop that way. And you are right! Another one for the filing cabinet!

But are you right because of some psychic feeling, because you vaguely overheard a conversation (even in another language) and got a sense it was there – or because there’s an unspoken agreement on how to lay out towns, even in as disparate places as Moscow and Liverpool. A case of, ‘We’ll that’s where I’d have put it!’?

In the schemas of the brain, there is, perhaps, a generalised city map that says, ‘A pub belongs on that corner.’ Maybe that’s also why if you put a pet shop there it goes out of business 6 months later. It’s a good place for any business, but some kink of the human psyche says it has to be the right one.

5) Here’s a little something extra for the pot. Over my life I’ve seen a lot of psychologists, psychiatrists and counsellors for a lot of reasons and one of the things I find hard to explain – but that might make sense to any Ph.D psychology candidate focusing on deja vu – is this:

I remember the future in the past tense.

Something to dwell on :)



I read this post in reply to the Facebook link and thought, ‘that makes perfect sense to me’; it does tick a lot of my boxes.

[S.M.] I always thought that deja vu is the result of reality catching up and/or corresponding to the anticipatory programming of the subconscious mind. People who tend to be more aware, anxious, or sensitive to patterns suffer it more than those who tend to be more passive.


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