Many of us have experienced déjà vu - the unsettling sensation of knowing that a situation could not have been experienced, combined with the feeling that it has. It is usually so fleeting that psychologists have until recently thought it impossible to study. But for some people, the feeling of having been there before is a persistent sensation, making every day a ‘Groundhog Day’. Psychologists from Leeds’ memory group are working with sufferers of chronic déjà vu on the world’s first study of the condition.
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.
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