In the Sept. 19 issue of the journal Nature, Swiss doctors report that an epileptic woman felt that she was floating above her body when they electronically stimulated part of her brain. The 43-year-old woman also felt that she was falling in the air or sinking into her bed and thought her legs were coming toward her upper body.
The doctors from Geneva University Hospital report that their experiment may confirm that out-of-body experiences occur when the brain fails to properly process the location of the entire body and of individual body parts.
In the Swiss study, the Geneva University Hospital doctors caused out-of-body experiences by stimulating a part of the right hemisphere of the brain known as the angular gyrus.
The findings make sense because some regions of the brain's right hemisphere "are responsible for our sense of living in our body," said Dr. James Grisolia, a neurologist with Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego. "Disruptions there can distort or remove our sense of our body."
Other epileptic patients don't need medical interference to encounter the feelings of being outside their bodies. A small number of patients report out-of-body experiences right before they suffer an epileptic seizure or a migraine headache, said Dr. Francisco Javier Gomez, a neurologist at Noran Clinic in Minneapolis.
"It's depersonalized. They're seeing themselves as if they're not in their own body," he said.
Feelings of dejà vu are also common.
Some patients use such experiences as an early warning system, Gomez said. Migraine sufferers view them as a cue to take their medicine, while epileptics see them as a sign that their medicine is not working properly, he said.
The research into out-of-body experiences and the brain could inspire doctors to take more care when people report out-of-body experiences, Gomez said. "We may be missing an illness in them."
The findings may also help doctors pinpoint the specific location of a problem in the brain, such as a tumor, he said.
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