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NEUROSCIENCE: How Do You Explain Out Of Body Experiences

You are lying in bed and slowly drifting off to sleep. Suddenly you feel a sensation of your spirit leaving your body and it floats dreamily above your physical body, there is a fragile silvery cord connecting the floating body and your physical shell. And the strangest part, you can see yourself sleeping peacefully and can observe your surroundings from the vantage point of your floating body above your physical form.

You begin to question your own sanity. Is this a dream? Are you dead? Has your soul just left your body? As the thoughts continue to plague your mind, you suddenly jerk up awake and it feels like a dream, but a very lucid dream and you are almost 100% sure that it actually happened. You didn’t just dream it!!.

These experiences are called Out of body experiences. How do out of body experiences happen? Is there some form of a neurological trigger? When do out of body experiences happen? Are out of the body experiences real? And most importantly, can out of body experiences be dangerous?

In some cases, out of body experiences in children may be more frequent depending on the mental health of the child, however, out of body experiences in adults are often more serious due to the complexity of the mind. Why out of body experience happens is still unknown, however, there are a multitude of out of body experiences stories that show that it is a phenomenon that is quite common in every human.

What does out of body experience mean, what does out of body experience feel like?

Out of body experiences (OBE) could easily classify as one of the top human mysteries. In fact, research indicates that about 10% of the human population has experienced an OBE at some point in their lives.

According to most out of the body experience stories, it can be described as the sensation of leaving your own body and floating above it while being conscious of your immediate surroundings including your corporeal form.

For those who wonder what out of body experience feels like, when you experience an OBE, you will feel like your consciousness and inner self has left your physical body and you can see yourself or your surroundings from another different perspective.

But is there any plausible explanation for this bizarre occurrence? Is it actually possible to leave your own body? Do out of body experiences really happen or is it just the mind playing tricks or do OBEs give an insight into the spiritual life, or afterlife?

OBEs have been linked to the paranormal and spiritual phenomenon but science and research experts haven’t completely uncovered the mystery behind OBEs, however, they have some possible explanations for its occurrence which we will be looking at as the article progresses. But first, what happens during an OBE, what exactly does it feel like?

 

HOW DO YOU FEEL DURING OUT OF BODY EXPERIENCES?

There are varying anecdotal accounts of what an OBE feels like, but the basic out of body experience symptoms include:

  • You find yourself suddenly floating outside your body without any warning
  • You may experience paralysis or overall body heaviness just before your consciousness slips out of your physical body
  • You find yourself observing your own body from above, through your own eyes at an impossible angle.
  • You may feel like you are floating around your surroundings
  • You are very alert about your OBE state and can perceive that what is happening is very real and not just a dream.

Some people mistake OBEs for astral projection, but studies on astral projection have made us understand that the phenomenon is sometimes spiritually directed and mostly intentional. Unlike an OBE, which is unplanned, unpredictable, and difficult to control, astral projections are a deliberate effort to separate the consciousness from the physical body and travel to another realm while staying connected to the outer vessel.

Another major difference is that people who experience OBE often just float above their body without traveling or moving, although there have been few reported cases of moving beyond the body.

OBEs also typically occur during sleep, a person may experience an out of body experience while sleeping or just before sleeping. They often tend to occur when sleep isn’t too deep. They may also occur during near-death experiences when a person is hanging between the sensation of life and death. There have also been reported accounts of an OBE following extreme physical exertion.

OUT OF BODY EXPERIENCE CAUSES

The exact causes of OBEs are yet to be established, but researchers have a few possible explanations for why they occur. These include :

SLEEP PARALYSIS: Sleep paralysis is a sleeping disorder that is characterized by hallucinations and temporary muscle paralysis where a person is unable to move their body at their own will. Some people see spooky sights or hear terrifying sounds accompanied by a heavy feeling on the chest or a sensation of being strangled or choked by an unseen force. In some episodes of sleep paralysis, people recount floating above their bodies.

Sleep paralysis occurs due to interference with the REM part of sleep. This has also been linked to the temporoparietal junction(TPJ). The TPJ is a region of the brain that gathers a wide range of information from the thalamus and the limbic system. The thalamus conveys sensory information to the TPJ while the limbic system controls emotion and memory. The TPJ also collects information from the auditory, visual and somatosensory systems.

The TPJ is believed to be the link between the self and the external environment, it helps connect our sensations with our consciousness. The TPJ is turned off during the REM part of sleep. This is why OBEs usually happen during sleep paralysis. Research has pointed out that that sleep paralysis is common during episodes of near-death experiences.

A psychological condition called depersonalization – derealization disorder has also been linked with sleep paralysis and OBEs. The disorder is characterized by the frequent sensation or feeling of observing one’s self outside the body. One particular study suggests that sleeping disorders that affect consciousness may contribute to the symptoms of this psychological disorder which is marked by episodes of OBEs.

STRESS/ TRAUMA:  Terrifying and stressful incidents can make one dissociate from their present state and incite the feeling of watching the unfolding scenario from outside the body as an onlooker.

A 2017 review suggests that OBEs may occur during childbirth because of the accompanying pain and fear. The researchers did not attribute this to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) but they noted that women who had an OBE experienced trauma during childbirth or in other situations. The study seems to suggest that an OBE may be a way to cope with trauma. However, more research needs to be conducted to verify this claim.

 

DRUGS: An OBE can be induced through the use of certain hallucinogenic drugs and substances such as ketamine, LSD, MDA, DMT, and marijuana. These drugs can cause hallucinations and a sensation of leaving the body. Some people also report OBE after being given anesthesia.

 

VESTIBULAR DISORDERS: The vestibular system which consists of certain structures of the inner ear is responsible for the body’s sense of balance and spatial positioning. A defect in this system can surface as dizziness or a floating sensation.

Results from a study that analyzed 210 patients with vestibular disorder concluded that the medical condition could be a possible cause of OBEs. The patients had problems with the vestibular system such as tinnitus, ear infections, and recurrent vertigo. 14% of these patients reported having an OBE, while only 5% of the healthy group reported the same. The study also found that OBEs were more frequent in those with the vestibular disorder than in healthy people. SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN

 

 BRAIN STIMULATION: Some studies have found that stimulating certain parts of the brain can trigger an OBE, especially in people with epilepsy. In a 2002 study, a weak current was passed through the angular gyrus(the temporoparietal junction) of a patient with epilepsy and she reported feeling sensations of floating from a height and seeing the lower parts of her body lying on the bed. The researches believe that the misprocessing of information by the TPJ might be responsible for OBEs.

Another study also reached the same conclusion after analyzing the brain of six neurological patients with brain lesions who reported having OBEs. They found that the TPJ was involved in the induction of OBEs in five of the patients.

SPATIAL DISORIENTATION: Spatial disorientation (SD) is particularly common among the pilot community. Pilots may experience odd sensations while on the plane. They may experience feelings of watching themselves fly the plane while sitting on the wing. SD is usually one of the common factors that trigger plane accidents.

OTHER POTENTIAL CAUSES:  OBEs may also be induced by extreme physical exertion, sensory overload or deprivation, strong G-forces (gravity-induced loss of consciousness mostly experienced by pilots), electric shock, and hypnosis. Medical and mental conditions like depression, anxiety, brain injuries, cardiac arrest, migraine, Guillain Barr syndrome, and epilepsy may also trigger an OBE. Although there is no substantial scientific evidence to support these causes.

OUT OF BODY EXPERIENCE DANGERS

There isn’t any scientific or medical research to show that OBEs are life-threatening or have any serious health implications. It has only been linked with heightened levels of emotional distress, and confusion. The aftermath of the experience may induce anxiety in some people. One may question their mental health and be scared about potential brain issues following an episode of an OBE. It may cause persistent worry and fear.

Also, having an OBE does not necessitate a visit to the doctor or a health care provider. But if you experience emotional unease and confusion that interferes with your daily activities afterward, do not hesitate to reach out to a health expert.

It is of utmost importance to seek urgent medical attention if you experience an OBE and have the following symptoms:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Severe headache
  • Seizures
  • Mood disturbances
  • Vision changes particularly flashing lights
  • Suicidal thoughts

IN A NUTSHELL 

Out of the body, experiences have continued to fascinate humanity to this day. The claim that one’s consciousness can leave the body has not been scientifically proven, but a significant proportion of the human population continues to report these mysterious occurrences. Some conditions such as sleep paralysis, dissociative disorders, and epilepsy have been shown to be possible causes of OBEs. It is also commonly reported during near-death experiences and by pilots when flying a plane.

 

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