Out of Body Experience: Your Brain is to Blame

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Out of Body Experience: Your Brain is to Blame

Have you ever had a moment where you felt like you were floating outside of your body, observing yourself from a distance? This phenomenon, known as an out of body experience (OBE), has fascinated scientists, philosophers, and the general public for centuries. While some interpret OBEs as spiritual or paranormal encounters, researchers have discovered that the brain is the true orchestrator of these intriguing sensations. In this blog post, we’ll delve into the science behind OBEs, exploring the neural mechanisms that underlie these ethereal encounters.

What is an Out of Body Experience?

An out of body experience refers to a dissociative state in which an individual feels detached from their physical body, as if they are observing it from an external perspective. During an OBE, people often report a feeling of floating, flying, or drifting away from their corporeal form. This phenomenon is commonly associated with situations of extreme stress, trauma, or even during intense meditation or lucid dreaming.

Historical Perspectives on OBEs

Throughout history, out of body experiences have been interpreted through various cultural, spiritual, and supernatural lenses. Ancient Egyptian mythology, for instance, depicted OBEs as the separation of the spiritual Ka (soul) from the physical body. Similarly, some Native American tribes believed in the “spirit-walking” ability, where individuals could navigate the spirit realm while their bodies remained stationary.

Interestingly, OBEs have also been associated with near-death experiences (NDEs). Some individuals who have been resuscitated after a close brush with death report vivid OBEs, often describing a sense of floating above their own lifeless bodies in an otherworldly realm. These experiences have fueled debates about the existence of an afterlife.

Exploring the Neuroscience of OBEs

While many perceive OBEs as enigmatic and supernatural, contemporary research suggests a more grounded explanation rooted in the human brain. Neuroscientists have conducted experiments using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and electroencephalography (EEG) to study the neural correlates of OBEs.

One prominent theory proposes that OBEs emerge from a disruption in the brain’s multisensory integration processes. Our brain routinely combines information from our various sensory systems, such as vision, proprioception (our sense of body position and movement), and vestibular (our sense of balance and spatial orientation). OBEs may occur when there is a temporary breakdown in this integration, leading to a mismatch between visual and proprioceptive cues.

For example, during an OBE, the visual system may give the perception of floating outside the body, while the proprioceptive system signals the physical body’s position. This sensory conflict can create a distorted perception of self-location and contribute to the feeling of being detached from one’s body.

The Role of the Temporoparietal Junction (TPJ)

One specific brain region that has garnered significant attention in the study of OBEs is the temporoparietal junction (TPJ). The TPJ is located in the outer layer of the brain’s temporal and parietal lobes and is involved in various cognitive processes, including self-awareness, perception, and attention.

Studies using neuroimaging techniques have demonstrated that the TPJ is highly active during OBEs. In one such experiment, participants induced an OBE through virtual reality technology while inside an fMRI scanner. The results revealed increased TPJ activity during the OBE state compared to normal waking consciousness, suggesting its crucial role in generating the Out of Body Experience.

OBE or Altered Body Representation?

While the TPJ’s involvement in OBEs is well-established, some researchers propose an alternative perspective. They argue that OBEs may not reflect an actual “out of body” experience but rather an altered representation of the body within the brain.

According to this view, the brain adapts its body schema—the internal representation of the body—based on incoming sensory information. During an OBE, the brain might temporarily update this representation, resulting in the perception of being outside the physical body. This experience would be akin to a perceptual illusion, where our brain creates a vivid but illusory sensation.

Further Implications and Applications

The scientific understanding of OBEs holds potential implications beyond unraveling the mysteries of consciousness. By exploring the neural mechanisms underlying these extraordinary experiences, researchers hope to shed light on related neurological conditions.

Developing a more detailed comprehension of OBEs could aid in comprehending other altered states of consciousness, such as depersonalization disorder, a condition characterized by persistent feelings of detachment from oneself. Understanding the neural basis of OBEs might also have implications for virtual reality experiences, providing insights into optimizing immersive technologies and enhancing the sensation of presence.


While out of body experiences may seem otherworldly, the growing body of scientific research suggests that they are products of the brain’s intricate neural networks. Rather than supernatural encounters, OBEs appear to be rooted in the brain’s mechanisms of sensory integration and self-representation.

Although many questions about OBEs remain unanswered, the advancements in neuroscience have brought us closer to unraveling the mysteries behind these fascinating phenomena. By studying the brain’s profound capabilities, researchers are not only unraveling the enigma of OBEs but also expanding our understanding of human consciousness and the intricacies of our own minds.

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Out of Body Experience: Your Brain is to Blame