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The story of a man who lived in a permanent Déjà Vu

The story of a man who lived in a permanent Déjà Vu

May 9, 2021

It has happened to all of us at some time in our life: have the feeling that we have already seen, heard or done something that is happening . Exactly in the same way, and in the same place. All traced, as if the past and the present had been split into two exact replicas. It is a phenomenon known as Déjà Vu and it is very normal for it to occur, because it is part of the normal functioning of our brain. However, in some very rare cases, Déjà Vu could give shape to a little-known mental disorder.

This is what happened to a French army officer at the end of the 19th century : I thought I was living in a series of replicas of the past, as if everyone was trying to recreate situations already lived.


The case of Louis pathological Déjà Vu: caught in time

This case was documented in 1896 by a psychiatrist called Francois-Léon Arnaud , and has been translated and recently published in the scientific journal Cortex by a team headed by the psychologist Julie Bertrand . It is also one of the first scientific articles in which the term Déjà Vu is used to refer to this type of phenomena.

Living in the past ... literally

In the text translated by Bertrand and his team describe some of the situations experienced by a young army officer who, after serving in Vietnam, was sent back home after beginning to develop a series of symptoms. Louis, this was the name of the soldier, constantly confused the past with the present . He believed that he was living exact replicas of what had happened months or years ago.


After having started to suffer intermittent fever probably caused by malaria, to it seemed in Louis an unwarranted exhaustion, insomnia and digestive problems , and retrograde and antegrade amnesia, for which, despite remembering most of the important information related to his life and his identity, he had difficulties remembering what had happened just a few minutes ago. This meant that, many times, he was repeating the same question over and over again, even if they had answered it just before.

And of course, Louis began to suffer the so-called pathological Déjà Vu shortly after, in 1893 . Although Louis had assured that as a child he experienced Déjà Vus very often, at that moment he not only experienced them all the time, but he also did not believe that they were illusions. He was convinced that the repetition of past experiences was absolutely real.


Everything is repeating

Among the anecdotes that serve to illustrate the case of pathological Déjà Vu documented by Arnaud is the time in which he claimed to have read several newspaper articles before, even claiming that he himself was the author of some of them.

Although initially Louis's pathological Déjà Vu was only related to the feeling of having read what was being read before, p oco later spread to more areas of his life and became more frequent .

At his brother's wedding, for example, he assured aloud that he remembered perfectly having attended this same ceremony a year ago, with the same guests, in the same place and with all the details placed identically. He also noted that he did not understand why they were repeating the wedding again.

As the symptoms became worse and the pathological Déjà Vu was extending its influence through all areas of Louis's life, there was also a tendency towards paranoid thoughts and persecutory mania. He believed that his parents were giving him drugs to make him forget about his plans to marry the woman he liked and react violently to normal, everyday actions.

Louis was around 35 when he entered the Maison de Santé in the French municipality of Vanves. There, in 1894, he met Arnaud .

Louis and Arnaud know each other

When Louis first saw Arnaud, this is what happened:

At first, Louis behaved in the way people who come into contact with an unknown person in a normal situation behave for the first time. Right after, Louis' expression became much kinder and more familiar.

I already recognize you, doctor . It is you who greeted me a year ago at the same time and in the same room. You asked me the same questions you ask me now, and I gave you the same answers. He does it very well at the time of being surprised, but he can stop.

Louis thought he had already been to the Vanves sanatorium . He had recognized the land on which it is located, its facilities, and at that time also the people who worked there. Even though Arnaud denied that all that had happened in the past, it did not seem to convince Louis. Soon after, a similar conversation took place when the patient met another doctor.

Scenes like this would define the kind of mental disorder that Louis entered into the institution.

Are you sure it is pathological Déjà Vu?

Although the symptoms experienced by Louis are closely related to the way in which the classic Déjà Vu is expressed, Julie Bertrand proposes the explanation that, in fact, what was happening to this patient was not Déjà Vu, at least technically. It would be rather an unconscious mechanism by which the memory gaps caused by amnesia are filled .

This would explain why Louis was not able to distinguish between the real past and the "artificial" past created by these situations. What he lived was, rather, a reduplicative paramnesia, an illusion in which common sense vanishes. One more example of the extent to which changes in our nervous system can change us even in those mental faculties that we take for granted.


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