March 8, 2014 -- A Canadian student has confounded researchers by admitting that she can have “out of body” experiences whenever she wants.
The 24-year-old student is the first person with this condition to have been studied according to a recent case study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
Claude Messier, a professor at the school of Psychology at the University of Ottawa and co-author of the study, said after he finished a class on “out of body experiences” one of his students admitted she could do that at will.
“She came after the class and literally said ‘I thought everybody could do that.’ She thought it was a very common thing,” Messier told ABC News.
Having an “out of body” experience where a person feels they are looking down on themselves is thought to be a rare occurrence by researchers and is often associated with some psychological event such as a trauma, a drug induced illusion or lesions on the brain.
Messier and his co-author interviewed the student and had her undergo an MRI to see if her brain activity might shed light on her unusual ability.
Messier said the girl first noticed her ability when she was a child and had a hard time going to sleep during naps. To pass the time she would “float” above her body.
“I feel myself moving, or, more accurately, can make myself feel as if I am moving. I know perfectly well that I am not actually moving,” the student told the researchers. “In fact, I am hyper-sensitive to my body at that point, because I am concentrating so hard on the sensation of moving…For example, if I ‘spin’ for long enough, I get dizzy.”
Messier said at some point the student's brain showed similar activity to that of a high-level athlete who can vividly imagine themselves winning a competition. One difference, however, was that her brain activity was focused on one side, and the athletes usually show activity on both brain hemispheres.
Messier said more study was needed, but he said that this discovery could mean many more people have this ability but find it “unremarkable.” The discovery could be similar to how synesthesia, a mix of multiple senses, was discovered in a wider population.
Alternately, the ability could be something that everyone is able to do as an infant or child, but lose as they get older.
“That would be interesting if this happens not to be a single case. [We can] look and see if there’s any communality between them and if there’s any consistency between [cases],” said Messier. Also, "It might explain how we generate images of our body.”
In spite of the attention Messier’s paper is getting, his unnamed student remains unimpressed.
She said, “I don’t understand why you get excited,” recalled Messier. “As far as I can tell she sees it as a very ordinary thing.”