Déjà vu is French for the term “already seen.” Déjà vu is the misperception that something new is familiar. It can be a place that you go and feel like you’ve been there before even though you can’t recall any details from a prior experience. It can be a person that you think you’ve seen before or a conversation you feel like you’ve had.
This is a very common phenomenon and is related to familiarity-based recognition. The ability to recognize something that you’ve experienced before is thought to be predominantly controlled by your hippocampus which is responsible for other types of memory functions.
We don’t know exactly why this happens in people who don’t have any illness or disorder. But it’s hypothesized that it’s a glitch in the system where your brain incorrectly matches an experience to a previous memory that is similar.
A more pathological problem identifying what is familiar and unfamiliar occurs with the Delusional Misidentification Syndromes. These are a group of delusional disorders that involve a problem with familiarity.
The four syndromes are Capgras delusion, Fregoli, delusion and intermetamorphosis syndromes and syndrome of subjective doubles.
Capgras delusion is where a person believes that someone close to them has been replaced by a double or imposter. This is an example of hypofamiliarity. You don’t recognize your loved one as being familiar to you.
Fregoli delusion has the opposite problem. With this you are hyper familiar. You believe that your loved one has been reincarnated into other people. For example You may see a stranger and insist that it’s your mother. Because of this, you act inappropriately with the person.
Intermetamorphisis occurs when you believe that someone familiar to you has changed into someone else familiar. You may see your husband as really being your brother.
Then there is subjective doubles. This is the belief that you have a doppelganger or identical double of yourself living an alternate life.
All of these delusions are fairly rare. They are often associated with an neurological disorders like Lewy body dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. It’s also thought that unlike déjà vu that seems to be a memory problem, that these delusions are more related to abnormal facial processing, called visual agnosia.
But in the end they are delusional disorders.
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