New science links déjà vu to potentially serious brain glitches

Earlier this week we talked about some common physiological reflexes—such as blinking, sneezing, goosebumps, and yawning. The list sounds a bit like something from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” or the land of “Wynkyn, Blynkyn, and Nod.” But science shows these primal reflexes, which involve the brain, actually help with our survival.

And today, I’m discussing another common brain response called déjà vu.

The phrase déjà vu is French and means “already seen.” It describes the eerie feeling you get when you’re in a situation that seems familiar, like you’re somehow experiencing it “all over again,” as Yogi Berra once said.

But new research has found a link between déjà vu and epileptic seizures.

Let’s take a look…

When something new feels strangely familiar

For most people, déjà vu occurs when a new experience completely bypasses short-term memory, which is normally held in the brain’s temporal lobe, and instead goes straight into long-term memory storage, creating the unsettling sensation that you’ve experienced it before.

Ordinary conditions, such as being distracted or sleep deprived, can contribute to having this kind of brain “glitch.” For example, if you’re overly tired or feel like you’re in a mental haze, you might be more likely to experience déjà vu.

Psychiatric drugs can also cause some of these unusual experiences. In fact, some people who take popular antidepressant drugs, called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), report experiencing déjà vu more frequently. When I ran the Center for Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital 15 years ago, patients came to us (to get off these drugs) and reported they could not tell whether a recent memory they had was something that had happened or something they dreamed.

Plus, as I mentioned, scientists now know that people with epilepsy often experience déjà vu before the onset (or during) a seizure. This observation makes sense, as we now know epilepsy is also caused by a misfiring in the brain’s temporal lobe…

Neurological glitch linked to epilepsy

The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates first described epilepsy as “the falling sickness.” And a person is diagnosed with it if they’ve had two or more seizures.

There are two main types of epileptic seizures. The first, called a “grand mal” seizure (which, again, comes from the French, meaning “big bad”), causes loss of consciousness and convulsions. (Julius Caesar suffered from grand mal seizures, which were also thought to grant him prophetic abilities. Though, according to Shakespeare, Caesar relied on chicken entrails to predict the future and warn him to “beware the Ides of March.”)

A second kind of seizure, called a petit mal (“little bad”) or absence seizure, occurs when the person just “zones out” and appears to exist for a while outside of normal space and time.

Fortunately, if you do have epilepsy, there are effective treatments to control it. And hopefully, these treatments will also help control your déjà vu.

For everyone else who suffers from persistent déjà vu, I suggest focusing on natural approaches to sharpen thinking, focus, and overall brain health. Specifically, look for brain supplements with blueberry or grape extract, berberine, or specially formulated turmeric (curcumin). (Learn more in the January 2020 issue of my monthly newsletter, Insiders’ Cures [“Preventing and reversing dementia is possible”]. Not yet a subscriber? Become one today!)

You can also try practicing some mind-body approaches that can help reduce your stress and improve your sleep. I encourage you to take this short quiz to learn which mind-body approaches may work best for you.


“What is Déjà vu?” Live Science, 7/18/2013. (