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Dream?
April 2, 2014 8:57 AM   Subscribe

Apologies if this sounds crazy. I suddenly had a memory from my past, to a very minute detail. But, I have a gut feeling that this was actually a recurring dream I used to have very regularly a long time ago. However ... I can't decide if it is something I made up just now. I'm not sure that was the best way to put into words exactly what I'm feeling, so please read on.

[I'm in my late twenties.]
***

This memory involves me doing some intense running and climbing through some deserted locales only to get to a very desolate area, so it's all quite fantastical and is also certainly the sort of thing I can see myself dreaming about while asleep.

Right now, the closest word I can use to describe what I'm feeling is a sort of deja-vu. But I thought deja-vu is only for something you see unfold outside of you. I've certainly experienced this before, but it also couldn't have actually happened! So -- is memory of dream, or rather a memory of having had the dream, while at the same time not being able to remember when one dreamed it, possible? Is there a technical term for such a sensation?

... and I guess more importantly, does it say something about my mental health that I can remember (or manufacture?) something in such vivid detail but can't "decide" whether it was an old recurring dream?

Once again, I'm really sorry if this all sounds very cuckoo.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
I am not a mental health professional. I have this happen ALL THE TIME. It does happen more when I'm under stress or fighting more heavily against my depression; it seems to be correlated (in me!) with a strong desire to daydream, sleep all day, or otherwise spend time in a hypnagogic fugue state. However, it absolutely has not been correlated with me losing my mind or my grip on reality, or otherwise having my mental troubles progress to the point where I'm having a crisis. It's weird and a little disorienting, but I don't think it's dangerous or overly worrying.
posted by KathrynT at 9:01 AM on April 2 [2 favorites]


So, if I understand correctly, you're not sure if this is a new dream, or if you're remembering a dream you had a long time ago?

I don't see why it couldn't be the latter. I can remember particularly vivid dreams I had a long time ago when I'm awake, so I don't see why they shouldn't still be buried in our memories somewhere. Or maybe it reminded you of something similar, and the two memories got tangled up together.

I can see how it could shake you up; dreams really get you where it hurts. But I wouldn't worry too much that it says something about your mental state. I think with a little time it'll probably just seem like one of those weird things that dreams do.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:05 AM on April 2


...does it say something about my mental health that I can remember (or manufacture?) something in such vivid detail but can't "decide" whether it was an old recurring dream?

Not a doctor, but I can't possibly see how, unless this is somehow affecting your quality of life. Personally, I have memories that I cannot for the life of me figure out if they actually happened to me, or if I saw them on TV or in a movie, or if they were dreams. I've had deja vu relating to stuff that I am absolutely sure was a dream. I've had dreams that felt absolutely like recurring dreams, but had absolutely no memory of having dreamt them before.

Memory is strange and fragile and not inherently an accurate record of things that, for a fact, occurred in the way they occurred. Throw dreams into the mix, and, yeah, your mind plays all sorts of tricks on you.
posted by griphus at 9:06 AM on April 2


Dreams and memories are complicated parts of our brains. One prevailing theory is that we dream in order to code and file our memories.

So don't think of this as an either/or scenario.

If you know this didn't happen, then it was a dream --- but a dream you vividly remember so you have created a memory of the dream.

It says absolutely nothing about your mental health except that maybe you are under some added stress and maybe need to give yourself a break. But what I wouldn't do is stress about this. It's far from an uncommon experience.

If it continues to distress you, however, then that is a problem that needs to be unpackaged.
posted by zizzle at 9:06 AM on April 2 [3 favorites]


I've certainly experienced this before, but it also couldn't have actually happened! So -- is memory of dream, or rather a memory of having had the dream, while at the same time not being able to remember when one dreamed it, possible?

Yes, absolutely.

Try this experiment:

Keep a notepad by your bedside. When you wake up one morning, write down what you dreamed about.

The next time you have dreams, pick up the notepad and take it with you. This time, wait until after lunch to write down what you dreamed about.

You will probably notice (unless it was an extraordinarily memorable dream) that you have a harder time with the second attempt, because details of dreams start to fade almost as soon as you wake up.

But those memories aren't necessarily gone. Your brain is incredibly good at arranging things into patterns and seeing connections and correlations. If it can't find a connection, sometimes it'll just make one. And, as the above experiment demonstrates, your brain is just kind of weird about the way it handles and/or remembers dreams.

Is there a technical term for such a sensation?

Sounds kind of like cryptomnesia.

and I guess more importantly, does it say something about my mental health that I can remember (or manufacture?) something in such vivid detail but can't "decide" whether it was an old recurring dream?

Yes: it says that you're perfectly normal.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:08 AM on April 2 [1 favorite]


I have seen the term "jamais vu" (never seen, a memory of something that didn't happen), but both experiences are neurological hiccups rather than a paranormal or emotional mechanism.

If it starts happening with a disturbing intensity* or you are uncertain you can tell if current experiences are real or not, you should pursue help. Otherwise it's maddening in the amateur sense but doesn't mean there's anything wrong with you.

*The summer I was 15, my Puberty Summer From Hell, it (deja vu) was happening half a dozen times a day on average. I was a fairly unflappable kid so I was just incredibly annoyed, but if it happened to me at that frequency today I would a) assume this is how menopause starts, b) consider getting a neurology consult.

But the occasional incident is weird-feeling but not unusual. As I've gotten older I've had to call my mom and ask about a couple of very young memories (one of them turned out to be something that DID happen, but I was 6 months old so that's pretty wild) to see if they were real or not.

(Professionally, I often find myself saying "Did I dream that I sent/told/gave you that already?" but the answer is frequently no, I did not dream it, but occasionally I have apparently manufactured that memory out of thin air simply from intending to do it.)
posted by Lyn Never at 9:13 AM on April 2


This is pretty much how all dreams feel to me (the ones I remember, anyway). A lot of my dreams seem to come with not just deja-vu but whole alternate histories of their own (like the time I woke up panicking about how I had adopted a baby owl two weeks earlier and then forgotten to feed or care for it... which, needless to say, did not happen).
posted by mskyle at 9:16 AM on April 2


Totally 100% normal. Dreams and memory are very strange. If I have a powerful dream it can leave me in a weird emotional state for an entire day- all about something that never happened. It fades, though.

If it's not distressing by itself, I don't think it's a problem at all. I would wager your intense recall of this dream/memory/whatever will fade for you soon. I imagine these sorts of weird, vivid feelings/images/'memories' are one source of creative ideas. You might find it interesting to write it down.

(I sometimes experience recursive deja vu, which is just silly: 'I know I've had deja vu JUST LIKE THIS BEFORE')
posted by BungaDunga at 9:20 AM on April 2 [1 favorite]


I read somewhere that the feeling of Déjà vu is actually the fact that your brain has fired off neurons in exactly the same pattern. So it's more of a brain replay, than an actual memory thing. The feeling is the fact that the neurons took the exact same path.

Brains are weird.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:32 AM on April 2 [4 favorites]


I get jamais vu and it feels just like deja vu, which is to say that it is not like a whole new memory type thing, but a sense that something that I'm actually doing is brand new and unfamiliar. And yeah, it is just a neurological hiccup.

If this is a dream you had before, that is also probably a neurological hiccup.

If it continues to distress you, however, then that is a problem that needs to be unpackaged.

That.
posted by epanalepsis at 9:46 AM on April 2


If it feels like you're remembering an old recurring dream, then it's a deja vu. A deja vu does not have to involve outside stimuli, as it is simply the biochemical stimulus of the sense of having experienced something before. Whether it has or has not happened before is (killjoy) immaterial, since what you're noticing is the triggering of the feeling. And yeah, there's a lot we don't know about the brain.

I guess the jamais vu angle is whether you're being disconnected to actually having had the dream before and imagining the sequence anew, and the deja vu would be the connection to the previous occurrence(s)? That's a tough one.
posted by rhizome at 9:50 AM on April 2


This sounds normal to me. I think it's not uncommon to mix up dreams, real events, memories of dreams, and memories of real events.
posted by Dansaman at 10:52 AM on April 2


I can't decide if it is something I made up just now.

It's possible that the Earth is in fact only 6600 years old and that it was created ex nihilo complete with an appropriately fragmentary fossil record of a deep-time past that never actually was.

In fact it's possible that you are in fact nothing more than a Boltzmann brain that only sprang into existence within the last five seconds, complete with an appropriately plausible set of detailed though illusory memories and simulated sensory stimuli.

So you've gotta ask yourself a question: "Do I feel lucky?"

Well?

Do you?

does it say something about my mental health that I can remember (or manufacture?) something in such vivid detail but can't "decide" whether it was an old recurring dream?

Yes it does. And the fact that you've sought some kind of reality check on a weird internal state before jumping to all kinds of unlikely conclusions about it says the same thing even more strongly.

For what it's worth, you strike this random Internet stranger as perfectly sane.

[I'm in my late twenties.]

Time is the only cure for that, I'm afraid.
posted by flabdablet at 11:15 AM on April 2 [1 favorite]


When I was in my late teens, my grandmother used to occasionally say, "Now, did this happen or did I dream it?" and I would wonder what the HELL was wrong with her that she couldn't discern reality from dreams.

So she was in her.... late 70s when this was happening, maybe?

Okay, so this is totally happening to me now, and has been more and more since I was in my 30s.

What I think is that the more memories we have and the longer ago the events occurred, the more dreamlike the memories become and the less room there is to store all of this on the hard drive of the brain so until we find a good document management system for the brain, memories pretty well all are filed under the Memories file and don't get sorted very well.
posted by janey47 at 11:21 AM on April 2


Wow, so this doesn't just happen to me! I get the same sort of thing, a wierd dejavu/dream sensation that I can only describe as being like remembering having dejavu, or remembering remembering a dream. It's like the sensation of forgetting what you were about to say but connected to a dream instead.
I think it happens when I remember a dream I have had but perhaps I have remembered it already and then forgotten it again, the dejavu coming from the first remembrance. As you can probably tell I am struggling to articulate this but I have certainly had this a few times and I tend to connect it to being in a familiar place, perhaps being a bit tired, maybe being under emotional stress and I just make an effort to keep an eye on my stress levels and get more sleep.
I don't think it is anything to worry about, but just another bizarre thing our brains are capable of.
posted by RandomInconsistencies at 3:51 AM on April 5


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