Have You Had an Out-of-Body Experience?

Your answer may reveal whether you are creative, fortuitous, or having a psychotic episode.

By Kevin RR Williams

HEALTH When questioned about out-of-body experiences (OBE), my near-death encounter is not the first thing that comes to mind. Nor is it the frightening OBE induced by a prescription drug. Before elaborating on personal experiences, let’s get a better understanding of OBEs.

At the brink of subconsciousness, during stage‑1 Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM), our minds can flood with bizarre or creative thoughts. Have you attempted to transcribe those hypnagogic hallucinations?

Perhaps you rouse yourself before transcending into the next deep-sleep stage to jot down what you see. Maybe you defy sleep to complete a creative piece of art. The “Mind Awake, Body Asleep” state is widely suggested as a cause of out-of-body experiences. With 1,093 registered patents, Thomas Edison used this state to tackle problems while inventing.

Subjective Out-of-Body Experiences

Creative writer Nikki Burdyn says that she judges a true artist by their ability to feel that sense of loss, and pain, and frustration, and joy. “To be passionate is to have an out-of-body experience.”

My thoughts return to a reoccurring childhood dream.

Ten percent of the population claim to have one or more out-of-body experiences during their lifetime. The perception of an OBE can be subjective. A near-death OBE draws gawks and inquisitions from friends and family. Your spouse’s query of an OBE may reference an evening of passion. Augmented reality is way to simulate OBEs.

A doctor might listen to your ramblings of unexplained symptoms. While thinking “psychotic break from reality,” he asks: “Do you sometimes feel as though you are outside your body?” Considering various interpretations, a discerning patient responds, “In what context?”


During an out-of-body experience you may feel detached from surroundings.

When questioned about out-of-body experiences, my thoughts return to a reoccurring childhood dream. It is so vivid that it blurs the line between fact and fiction. With an adequate gust of wind, I could float 20 feet above cars, across streams, and valleys. The only thing this has in common with an OBE is the sense of floating. This scrawny child’s secret super power was escapism. But childhood may play a factor in your experience.

Life Review Experience

We splice together censored vignettes to stage an acceptable drama.

For emotional protection, many of us cloak some childhood memories. We splice together censored vignettes to stage an acceptable drama of our early lives. My sister-in-law was attempting to ascribe meaning to a personal devastation. Following her probing questions about family childhood, I became mute. Revisiting that time decades ago, here is how it felt.

Like a movie playing fast-forward, my mind is uncontrollably racing with thoughts. It is my semi-sequential childhood. People say they see their whole lives pass before them prior to death. Is this what’s happening? There is a hyper-awareness of self to the exclusion of my surroundings. Images are flashing so rapidly, there is no room for conscious thought or conversation. With eyes open or shut, the succession of silent pictures continues unabated. An entire day goes by. Then two.

There is grimacing as scenes lead up to the tragic death of a sibling. But the sequence continues beyond it. By the third day, I am fatigued. Sleep deprivation heightens my fear that some repressed memory is going to push me over the edge. Beckoned to return to a place that is the seat of many emotions, I get behind the wheel of my car. With hope that the madness abates, there is no opposition to the destiny. The episode ends like a motion picture filmstrip flapping on the projector. I find myself facing a true cliffhanger on the edge of a precipice above a canyon. Exhausted, I return home to a wife perplexed over the extended “silent treatment.”


A life review experience (LRE) may resemble a motion picture.

After some rest, I feel relief that there are no “skeletons in the closet” to trigger a permanent psychological breakdown. There is a sense of clarity about aspects of my life intentionally suppressed.

“Intrusive thoughts” that one finds hard to switch off are classified as derealization. A study published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition, concludes: “Re‑experiencing one’s own life-events, so-called LRE (life review experience), is a phenomenon with well-defined characteristics, and its sub-components may be also evident in healthy people.” A life review is a phenomenon where a person rapidly sees much or the totality of their life history in a non-chronological sequence. I wonder whether everyone has a “switch” that disables conscious thoughts and sends us spiraling through a LRE.

The Real Out-of-Body Experience

Are you curious about my drug-induced OBE? Assuming anxiety was the cause of gastrointestinal disorders, a doctor prescribed Xanax in my late twenties to help me relax. After taking one, I begin drifting asleep midday. Though my eyes are closed, there is awareness of myself on the sofa. Someone is at the door but I am immobile. The door swings open and a man walks inside the living room. He sees me sleeping and stealthily steps behind the sofa. If I didn’t have anxiety before, I do now! Struggling to regain control of my muscles, I rouse myself and jump to my feet, facing the absent intruder. Spinning around, there is a front door that never opened. That prescription with side effects of anxiousness, restlessness, and abnormal dreams was discarded.

Most of the dreams, fantasies, and LRE described here deviate from the classic OBE. “Out-of-body experience” was first mentioned in a 1943 book by British parapsychologist G.N.M. Tyrrell. The term is now the subject of modern researchers. OBE is an alternative label to “astral projection” or “soul travel.” This differs from night terrors that some people experience during NREM Stages 2–3.

Psychologists may regard OBEs as a Dissociative Disorder.

Many patients claim to experience OBE during surgery. There is variation among medical professionals over what an out-of-body experience entails. Some consider them fiction. Neuroscientists and psychologists may regard OBEs as a Dissociative Disorder. This is a group of conditions that involve disruptions or breakdowns of memory, awareness, identity, or perception. Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder is included in that group. Dopamine levels are attributed to a belief in the supernatural or a deity providing salvation. Michael Shermer makes such a connection while associating OBEs with “agenticity” during the conclusion of his TED Talk.

OBEs can be induced by sensory deprivation, brain traumas, dissociative and psychedelic drugs, extreme physical exertion, dehydration, sleep, and electrical brain stimulation. Testing the phenomenon, Neuroscientists from Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet created an out-of-body illusion. Subjects with head-mounted displays saw a stranger interacting with themselves. Dynamic brain scans revealed the presence of “perceived self-location.” This maps to temporal and parietal lobe activity. Other research shows that medicinal and recreational drugs such as the anesthetic ketamine, can mirror the euphoria often felt in near-death experiences.

What about you? Do you deny out-of-body experiences as fiction? Are you one of the 10 percent who have had an OBE? If so, did you feel vulnerable or believe you were losing your mind? Are OBEs embarrassing or frightening to you? It is my hope that this discussion leaves you feeling A Bit More Healthy about the experience.

This 1192 word article passes with good readability by the Hemingway Editor.

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Tags: hallucinations, imaginations, oneirology, OOBE, neuropsychology

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