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What Is Jamais Vu?

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  • Written By: H. Colledge
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 21 November 2016
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Jamais vu, which translates literally as "never seen," is a strange type of experience during which people perceive places or objects as new even though they have actually seen them before. This can lead to people feeling that they are seeing a place or object for the first time, even if it is quite familiar. Jamais vu can arise as the result of a mental illness, and it can be associated with a type of epilepsy known as temporal lobe epilepsy. It is the opposite of the symptom known as deja vu, in which something or some place seems familiar when it is actually completely new. While most people experience jamais and deja vu occasionally, frequent occurrences may indicate an underlying disorder.

A number of different conditions are associated with jamais vu. The neurological disorder known as temporal lobe epilepsy is one example. Jamais vu can also occur as part of a condition known as depersonalization disorder. In both of these conditions, deja vu may be experienced as well. Neither jamais nor deja vu should be confused with a third experience, known as presque vu, which involves the sensation of almost remembering something, such as the feeling that a word is on the tip of the tongue.

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Research into jamais vu suggests that the experience could be induced by a type of brain fatigue. In one experiment, people were instructed to write the same word repeatedly in the course of a minute. Some of those taking part experienced jamais vu, as the word began to seem unreal. Other participants started to doubt it was the correct word, believing they had been tricked. Future research into the phenomenon may help further understanding of some psychiatric disorders.

Depersonalization disorder involves people feeling detached from their thoughts or their bodies, often associated with anxiety. An out-of-body experience would be an example of this condition. As part of the disorder, derealization may occur, meaning that the environment appears to be strange or distorted. Feelings of jamais vu or deja vu could be part of this strangeness.

In temporal lobe epilepsy, seizures begin in the temporal lobes of the brain, which are concerned with emotions, memory, speech and hearing. During a seizure, objects may appear visually distorted, and sounds, tastes, smells and sights may be experienced which do not really exist. Odd body movements and behavior may occur, and people may feel detached, nauseous or emotional. As part of the seizure, jamais vu could develop, resulting in an inability to recognize familiar places and objects. Temporal lobe epilepsy may be treated with drugs or, in some cases, surgery.

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