Déjà Vu: Definition, Causes, Risk Factors and Treatment

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Déjà vu is the feeling of having already experienced something happening for the first time. Approximately two-thirds of all people have experienced déjà vu, and for the most part, the phenomenon is harmless.

However, déjà vu has been linked to conditions such as psychiatric disorders, seizures, stress, and dementia.

This article discusses the causes, risks, and treatment of déjà vu.

An elderly man looking at black and white photos

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What Is Déjà Vu?

Although the term didn't originate until the late 1800s, poets and writers have been describing déjà vu for centuries. Two main definitions of "déjà vu" are:

  • "Déjà vu" is a French word that means "already seen." This includes having previously visited, met, heard, tasted, smelled, and performed the situation in the past.
  • Déjà vu is any subjective impression of unusual familiarity without being able to link it to memory. If a person experiences a feeling of familiarity but can recall the memory responsible for the feeling, it is not considered déjà vu.

Causes of Déjà Vu

Déjà vu is challenging to research because it usually occurs unexpectedly and is short-lived; however, the phenomenon continues to intrigue scientists worldwide. Although more research is needed, here are some common causes of déjà vu:

  • Coincidence: Most episodes of déjà vu are random incidents, likely from an unconscious memory. Researchers hypothesize that if you have an unconscious memory similar to a current circumstance, it elicits the feeling of déjà vu.
  • Temporal lobe epilepsy: Seizures originating from the temporal lobe, the second largest lobe in the brain, can cause feelings of déjà vu because this brain area is responsible for emotions and memory. It's not unusual for those with this type of epilepsy to experience a seizure aura as déjà vu.
  • Psychiatric conditions: People with schizophrenia or psychosis often report symptoms of déjà vu. In these cases, the experience lasts longer, is more intense, and can be distressing to the person. However, researchers don't consider this to be déjà vu but rather a side effect of mental illness.
  • Paranormal event: Frequent déjà vu is considered a sign of psychic abilities in some cultures. The feeling of familiarity is seen as having lived a past life or having the ability to tell the future.
  • Dopamine: Some experts report that increased dopamine levels (brain chemical) could lead to more frequent episodes of déjà vu because of its effects on the brain.

Other studies suggest that déjà vu can occur from increased stress, anxiety, and fatigue. Since déjà vu likely originates from the brain, it makes sense that conditions affecting the brain can result in deja vu. Additionally, people with dementia also experience symptoms of deja vu.

Risk Factors and Complications of Having Déjà Vu

Researchers in one study found contributing factors for developing déjà vu among participants to could include being young (around 15–25 years old), having the ability to recall their dreams, having higher education, and having traveled frequently.

Déjà vu does not have complications unless related to a serious health condition. If you are having frequent bouts of déjà vu accompanied by the below symptoms, you should be evaluated by your healthcare provider:

Déjà Vu and Children

Research shows about 97% of people experience déjà vu at least once, with 67% experiencing it regularly. What's more, children experience it the more so than adults. A small percentage of people say they had experienced déjà vu by 6 years old, while most people say they experienced it before the age of 10. Studies show a decline of reported déjà vu experiences after 25.

Treatment for Déjà Vu

The only treatment for frequent déjà vu is to correct the underlying cause, if identified. Although mostly innocent, déjà vu may be reduced by properly managing a seizure disorder, lessening stress and anxiety, and getting enough rest.


Déjà vu is a common phenomenon experienced by most people. Feeling like you've already experienced a new situation can be a random incident or a sign of a medical condition. You can treat déjà vu by correcting the underlying cause, if one can be identified. It's important to tell your healthcare provider about episodes of déjà vu accompanied by hallucinations, seizure activity, or mental status changes.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Serenity Mirabito RN, OCN
Serenity Mirabito, MSN, RN, OCN, advocates for well-being, even in the midst of illness. She believes in arming her readers with the most current and trustworthy information leading to fully informed decision making.