‘Deja vu’ means ‘already seen’ or ‘seen before.’ It’s when we feel a strong sense of recognition in a new place, as if we’ve been there before but can’t remember when.
It can occur even in places we know for certain we have never visited in the past. We may actually find that we know the layout of the rooms, or what’s round the corner in the road.
Often, ‘deja vu’ is accompanied by a strong emotional reaction to the place we recognise – perhaps a warm sense of belonging, or a feeling of sadness, or a desire to get away.
A scientific explanation of this phenomenon is that it’s some kind of blip in the brain – a disturbance in the electrical activity which causes a momentary illusion that we’ve seen the place previously when in fact we’re seeing it for the first time.
A more metaphysical explanation is that ‘deja vu’ is connected with past lives – we recognise a place because we were there in a former life. But how could that account for feelings of ‘deja vu’ which arise in a modern environment?
Years ago, I revisited the town I grew up in, Wimbledon, with an old friend from school. Before the visit, I dreamt I was walking from my childhood home into the town centre, and when I got there, I was surprised to find the old Town Hall was now a shopping centre.
When we arrived, I found the town centre was exactly as I had dreamt it. You may say I must have heard about the redevelopment in the media or something, and simply forgotten. But this sort of thing happens quite often, in relation to places which have never been in the media.
Five years ago, I wanted to move house, and I was looking at cul-de-sac bungalows within a certain area. I happened upon the house I eventually found quite by chance, on an evening out – it was in the wrong place, but I viewed it on a whim, and as soon as I walked in the door, it just felt like my house.
Recently, reading back through some old dream diaries, I discovered that I had dreamt I took a detour on a house-finding mission, to view a little miner’s cottage in the middle of a terrace on the edge of the moor – I had actually dreamt about this house.
I don’t know if there is a definitive explanation for ‘deja vu’, but my own experience suggests that when we feel we have been in a place before, we have – in our dreams.
Have you ever experienced ‘deja vu’? What do you think is the explanantion?