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An out-of-body experience (OBE or sometimes OOBE) is a parapsychological phenomena, an experience that typically involves a sensation of floating outside of one's body and, in some cases, seeing one's physical body from a place outside one's body (autoscopy). Approximately one in ten people claim to have had an out-of-body experience at some time in their lives.[1] For some, the phenomenon occurs spontaneously, while for others it is linked to dangerous circumstances, a dream-like state, a near-death experience, or use of psychedelic drugs. A few have been able to induce the experience deliberately through visualizations while in a relaxed, meditative state, or through a lucid dream. Relatively little is known with certainty about OBEs.[2] Recent studies have shown that OBEs can be induced by stimulating the angular gyrus at the temporal-parietal lobe junction.

In some cases, the subject of an OBE has either willed themselves out of their bodies or found themselves being pulled from their bodies (these were usually preceded by the feeling of paralysis). In other cases, the feeling of being outside the body was something suddenly realized after the fact; the subjects saw their bodies almost by accident. [3]

Subjects claim they can (at will or otherwise) see a silver cord linking their astral form to their physical body. This cord mainly appears to a beginning traveler as assurance they will not become lost. However, even experienced travelers find it useful, claiming it is a fast way to return to the body.

The OBE is not generally long; on the order of a minute or so. Those who experience an OBE may note that the subjective experience is much longer than the objective time passing.

The OBE may or may not be followed by other experiences which are self-reported as being "as real" as the OBE feeling; alternatively, the subject may fade into a state self-reported as dreaming, or they may wake completely. The OBE is sometimes ended due to a fearful feeling of getting "too far away" from the body. Many end with a feeling of suddenly "popping" or "snapping" back into their bodies.

Some subjects experience spiritual epiphanies; others experience a general feeling of peacefulness and love; still others experience fearfulness and anxiety. Finally, some experience only the OBE itself, with no direct spiritual experience.

A majority describe the end of the experience as "then I woke up". It's worth noting that even (perhaps especially) those who describe the experience as something fantastic that occurs during sleep, and who describe the end of the experience by saying "and then I woke up", are very specific in describing the experience as one which was clearly not a dream; many described their sense of feeling more awake than they felt when they were normally awake. One compared the experience to that of lucid dreaming, but said that it was "more real".

Types of OBE

Spontaneous OBE

A spontaneous OBE is the experience of leaving one's physical body, intentionally or otherwise; whether or not it reflects reality remains controversial. It is reported that some of those who recall the experience remember visiting places and people they have never been to or seen before, only to find that they in fact do exist when the individual attempts to retrace their travels in the physical self.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

People often report having these experiences after suffering from traumatic experiences such as motor vehicle accidents. People can often remember the accident as if they were observing from a location outside of the vehicle.

Initiated during/after sleep

Main article: Sleep paralysis

OBEs are often initiated through Lucid dreaming, though other types of initiation also used. In many cases, people claim to have had an OBE, reported being asleep, on the verge of sleep, or having been asleep shortly before the experience. A large percentage of these cases referred to situations where the sleep was not particularly deep (due to illness, noises in other rooms, emotional stress, exhaustion from overworking, frequent re-awakening, etc.). In most of these cases, the subjects then felt themselves "wake up"; about half then noted a feeling of physical paralysis. These may be examples of sleep paralysis.[4]

There appear to be two common forms of such lucid experiences. The first involves lucid dreaming, where the subject is immersed in unrealistic worlds, or in a modified form of the reality with impossible or inconsistent features. A second experience is of a more physical nature where the environment is consistent with reality; this is often called an etheric or ethereal experience. This type can be frightening, as extremely realistic physical sensations may occur, often including magnetic and vibrating phenomena, loss of balance, and confusion. The person believes he has awoken physically and panic can be caused by the realization that limbs appear to be penetrating objects. Transition can occur between these states one or several times; this transition may feel much like awakening, including the sensation of numbness often felt on awakening.

Induced OBEs (non-spontaneous)

Although the above experiences were "spontaneous", some people have attempted to develop techniques to "induce" an OBE. Methods vary. See below:

  • Attempting to fall asleep without losing consciousness. This method is generally believed to be what causes involuntary OBEs. Some who use it consider dreams to be a form of OBE in which the conscious mind is suppressed; alternatively, others believe that an OBE is a form of dream in which the conscious mind is not suppressed. A known related technique is for the subject to remind himself of his current position in time and space with daily conscious effort, every now and then. This can then occur during sleep and cause the subject to "awaken" in lucid states required to cause the experience. See lucid dreaming.
  • Deep trance and visualization. The types of visualizations vary; some common imageries used include climbing a rope to "pull out" of one's body, floating out of one's body, getting shot out of a cannon, and other similar approaches. This technique is considered hard to use for people who cannot properly relax. Common sensations can arise such as deep vibrations, impressions of very high heart rate (when it actually is in a relaxed state) and these sensations are likely to cause anxieties. A good example of such a technique consists of the popular "Golden Dawn Body of Light Technique".[How to reference and link to summary or text]
  • Audio/visual stimulation intended to bring the subject into the appropriate state. An example of this consists of binaural sound technology, in which a constant sound frequency is played in each ear individually, to cause the brain to naturally respond to the rhythm caused by the slight frequency difference between the two. The theta (4Hz) brain wave frequency was observed as effective by the Monroe institute (and corroborated by others). Another popular technology uses sinusoidal wave pulses to achieve similar results. The beta/theta simultaneous brainwave patterns (12Hz/4Hz) were also observed as effective, apparently easing the lighter sleep condition. The theta frequency is observed monitoring brains of dreaming patients, notably in REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, while the beta frequency range is that of normal, relaxed awakened individuals. It is believed that one of the unsuspected powers of the drumming of the American natives during religious ceremonies caused the brain to shift among frequencies to become more receptive to the "other worlds" using similar means.
  • The OBE state has been reported as induced by inhalation or ingestion of the entheogen, salvinorin A, derived from the herb, Salvia divinorum (aka Salvia, Diviner's Sage, Magic Mint, and Maria Pastora).
  • Methamphetamine has also been known to cause OBEs, not in itself but through lack of sleep. It has been reported that it felt like the person was talking above and behind them and, being under the influence of the drug, had no idea what was happening.
  • Vibration of the body by a Klini bed, as developed by Dannion Brinkley.
  • Magnetic stimulation of the brain, as with the helmet developed by Michael Persinger.
  • Electrical stimulation of the brain (See below).
  • Sensory deprivation or sensory overload. Various techniques aim to cause intense disorientation of the subject by making him lose his space and time references. The first technique, attempting to fall asleep without losing consciousness, can be considered to be a passive form of sensory deprivation. The brain tends to fill in the gaps when there is nothing getting into the senses for some time. Sensory overload consists of the opposite, where the subject can for instance be rocked for a long time in a specially designed cradle, or submit to light forms of torture, to cause the brain to shut itself off from all sensory input. Both conditions tend to cause confusion and this disorientation often permits the subject to experience vivid, ethereal out of body experiences. This tends to happen when the subject believes he or she is in a particular position, whereas his or her actual body is either rocking in a cradle actively, or still lying down. Consciousness suddenly transfers to the mental body.
  • Some people who practice BDSM desire to be placed in extreme bondage (mummification) because it may allow them to have an out-of-body experience (These experiences have been reported by some people placed in extreme bondage.). (Being placed in extreme bondage is like being placed in a sensory deprivation tank).

Near-death experiences

Main article: Near-death experience

Another form of a spontaneous OBE occurs during a near death experience (or NDE). The phenomenology of an NDE usually includes physiological, psychological and transcendental factors (Parnia, Waller, Yeates & Fenwick, 2001) such as subjective impressions of being outside the physical body (an out-of-body experience), visions of deceased relatives and religious figures, transcendence of ego and spatiotemporal boundaries and other transcendental experiences (Lukoff, Lu & Turner, 1998; Greyson, 2003). Typically the experience follows a distinct progression, starting with the sensation of floating above one's body and seeing the surrounding area, followed by the sensation of passing through a tunnel, meeting deceased relatives, and concluding with encountering a being of light (Morse, Conner & Tyler, 1985).

External verification of OBEs

Few attempts have been made to verify OBE as being "really" out-of-body by checking the positions of people or objects in another room. The basis for the subject's belief that the experiences were real was not primarily the external evidence. Very few cases considered it needful to verify for themselves they were physically out-of-body by checking on events at other locations. This type of verification was not what caused them to believe the experience was "real" in the first place. Instead, it was the quality of the experience that drove their perception of its reality, and made it different from a dreaming or illusory experience. [5]

Other observations of OBEs

Not every OBE has exactly the same aspects, but although there are several different types of OBEs with different causes and meanings, there are some common elements:

  • These people claim they are not "faking" their experiences.
  • They were not, in general, "trying" to have the experience through auto-suggestion, hypnotic trance, etc. Many seemed frightened and/or confused by the experience; some even to the point of doubting their sanity.
  • A belief that they were physically "out of body" is a key feature of the experience. Even though other features of their experience might be self-described as dreamlike, the OBE part was experienced "lucidly", and was very real to the subjects. Several described their subjective state as "very awake", "more awake than usual", etc. Some quotes:
  • "I knew that these were not dreams, I can now tell the difference and that's what frightened me [sic], a dream you can ignore but not an experience like these [sic] it made me want to try and find out why are [sic] these things happening to me."
  • "Consciousness was as clear and lucid as any wakening experience."
  • "I was very alert. It was exactly as if I was awake."

The quality of the experiences which were strictly part of the OBE had no direct bearing on the remainder of the experience. For example, some describe vivid spiritual experiences following the OBE, which continue to influence their lives. On the other hand, others describe a kind of fading into what are self-reported as dreams of no consequence. Conversely, many people report spiritual experiences during sleep or otherwise which are not preceded by an OBE.

Possible explanations

Opinions regarding the objective reality of OBEs are varied. Some people believe the phenomenon is exactly what it feels like, and involves the soul or subtle body leaving the body and exploring[How to reference and link to summary or text].

Many OBE accounts are positive that the usual explanation, that the experience is illusory or purely subjective, is insufficient and often cite the experience as having a spiritual effect[How to reference and link to summary or text]. See examples:

  • "If it was [a dream], why am I still so affected by it?"
  • "I just don't understand this – how can this happen?"
  • "I realized at that instant my body was just a vehicle, a work horse, so to speak."
  • "The experience changed my life, and was profound."
  • "It has made me want to explore and learn as much as I can."
  • "This experience is as vivid to me today, as it was the night it actually happened. I will always remember it."

Despite claims of some "projectors" who aver that they can initiate the experience at will, there is to date no reliable evidence that any imagery or information acquired during the experience could not have come from normal sources[How to reference and link to summary or text] (see near-death experience for some inconclusive attempts to test this skeptical hypothesis).


Main article: Skepticism

English psychologist Susan Blackmore [6], suggests that an OBE begins when a person loses contact with sensory input from the body while remaining conscious. The person retains the illusion of having a body, but that perception is no longer derived from the senses. The perceived world resembles the world he or she generally inhabits while awake, but this perception does not come from the senses either. The vivid body and world is made by our brain's ability to create fully convincing realms, even in the absence of sensory information. This process is witnessed by each of us every night in our dreams. Technically all dreams could be called OBEs in that in them we experience events and places quite apart from the location and activity of our normally perceived body and world.[7]

Neuroscientific perspectives

Olaf Blanke studies

There is now an ongoing research project into the neuroscience of OBEs being undertaken by Olaf Blanke in Switzerland. This line of research acknowledges the experiences as reported by the subjects as valid. That is, people really do feel as if they have left their body. However, researchers have found that it is possible to reliably elicit such experiences by stimulating regions of the brain called the right temporal-parietal junction (TPJ; a region where the temporal lobe and parietal lobe of the brain come together). This evidence calls into question the idea a second or astral body is an objective reality within these experiences. Blanke however does not dismiss the idea that these experiences may have objective factors, in a 2002 BBC Radio interview he stated that one of his patients had accurately perceived information outside of her sensory range after stimulation of her right-angular gyrus. He went on to say that more research was needed. [8]

Olaf Blanke and his collaborators in Switzerland [9] have explored the neural basis of OBEs by showing that they are reliably associated with lesions in the right TPJ region[1] and that they can be reliably elicited with electrical stimulation of this region in a patient with epilepsy [2]. These elicited experiences include percepts of transformations of the patient's arm and legs (complex somatosensory responses) and whole-body displacements (vestibular responses), all of which are commonly reported in OBEs.

In neurologically normal subjects, Blanke and colleagues then showed that the conscious experience of the self and body being in the same location depends on multisensory integration in the TPJ. Using event-related potentials, Blanke and colleagues showed the selective activation of the TPJ 330-400 ms after stimulus onset when healthy volunteers imagined themselves in the position and visual perspective that generally are reported by people experiencing spontaneous OBEs. Transcranial magnetic stimulation in the same subjects impaired mental transformation of the participant’s own body. No such effects were found with stimulation of another site or for imagined spatial transformations of external objects, suggesting the selective implication of the TPJ in mental imagery of one's own body[3]. In a follow up study, Arzy et al. showed that the location and timing of brain activation depended on whether mental imagery is performed with mentally embodied or disembodied self location. When subjects performed mental imagery with an embodied location, there was increased activation of a region called the "extrastriate body area" (EBA), but when subjects performed mental imagery with a disembodied location, as reported in OBEs, there was increased activation in the region of the TPJ. This leads Arzy et al. to argue that "these data show that distributed brain activity at the EBA and TPJ as well as their timing are crucial for the coding of the self as embodied and as spatially situated within the human body." [4]

Blanke and colleagues thus propose that the right temporal-parietal junction is important for the sense of spatial location of the self, and that when these normal processes go awry, an OBE arises.[5]

Michael Persinger studies

Michael Persinger has undertaken similar research to Olaf Blanke using magnetic stimulation applied to the right temporal lobe of the brain, which is known to be involved in visuo-spatial functions, multi-sensory integration and the construction of the sense of the body in space. Persinger's research also found evidence for objective neural difference between periods of remote viewing in two individuals thought to have psychic abilities. Persinger undertook his research on Sean Harribance and Ingo Swann, a renowned remote viewer who has taken part in numerous studies.[6] Examination of Harribance showed enhanced EEG activity within the alpha band (8 - 12 Hz) over Harribance's right parieto-occipital region, consistent with neuropsychological evidence of early brain trauma in these regions. In a second study, Ingo Swann was asked to draw images of pictures hidden in envelopes in another room. Individuals with no knowledge of the nature of the study rated Swann's comments and drawings as congruent with the remotely viewed stimulus at better than chance levels, suggestive of some psi ability. Additionally, on trials in which Swann was correct, the duration of 7 Hz (alpha band) paroxysmal discharges over the right occipital lobe was longer. Subsequent anatomical MRI examination showed anomalous subcortical white matter signals focused in the perieto-occipital interface of the right hemisphere that were not expected for his age or history.

Other types of projection

Astral projection

Main article: Astral projection

Astral projection is an interpretation of forced out-of-body experiences achieved consciously, via visualisation techniques, lucid dreaming or deep meditation. Proponents of astral projection maintain that their consciousness or soul has transferred into an astral body (or "double"), which moves free of the physical body in a parallel world known as the "astral plane," which is said to exist via the "collective unconscious". Unlike the typical OBE, astral projection does not typically posit that one's consciousness or soul actually travels through the day-to-day physical realm.

Virtual reality projection

Part astral and part real time (as mentioned above), called Virtual Reality Projection by most, is when a projector moves on the physical plane, yet interacts with the astral plane at the same time. An example of this is if one walks into a "real" poster or picture, they are transported to a perfect reconstruction of this place/world by concentrated experiences and thoughts of every beholder of the concept of the picture. This is part of the reason many try to project, but admittedly only a speck in the (literally) infinite possibilities. This concept is associated with the occult and the New Age movement, and is not accepted by the majority of the scientific community.

Remote viewing

In some instances, astral projectors have described details of the outside world whilst in projection that they could not have known beforehand. This has been studied extensively and is known as remote viewing. In remote viewing, however, the viewer does not leave his or her body, but "sees" remote sites by other means.

In some instances, such as patients during surgery, people describe OBEs in which they see something they could not possibly have seen while under anesthesia (for instance, one woman accurately described a surgical instrument she had not seen previously, as well as conversation that occurred while she was clinically dead). [10]


"Astral projection" was the earlier common term for OBE (see discussion under Astral Projection, below). More recently, "out-of-body experience," was suggested by parapsychologist Charles Tart and has become the standard term. Other terms include:

  • altered mind-body perception
  • astral elevation
  • astral excursion
  • astral travel
  • autoscopic hallucination
  • bilocation
  • coat travel
  • consciousness localized in space-
    outside the body
  • disembodiment
  • dissociation between body and mind
  • dormiens vigila
  • dream time
  • dream travel
  • dream walking
  • eckstacy
  • ecsomatic experience
  • ecsomaticity
  • ecstasys
  • eidolon
  • ESP projection
  • etheric projection
  • ex-corporeal consciousness
  • exteriorization
  • externalisation
  • extrasensory travel
  • extrasomatic localization
  • false sight
  • flight of the soul
  • interdimensional traveling
  • kosha-state
  • leaving the body
  • little death
  • mental projection
  • mind projection
  • mind traveling
  • mystic death
  • night travel
  • projection of consciousness
  • projection of the etheric body
  • pseudopia
  • psi-projection
  • psychic navigation
  • psychic travel
  • psychological death
  • psychonavigation
  • roaming sight
  • sacred silence
  • scrying in the spirit vision
  • self-projection
  • separation
  • shamanic journey
  • shamanic ecstasy
  • slipping out
  • soul travel
  • spirit journey
  • spirit travel
  • spirit walking
  • statuvolism
  • trance journey
  • traveling clairvoyance
  • traveling ESP
  • traveling telepathy
  • traveling spiritually

See also


  1. Blanke, O., Landis, T., Spinelli, L., & Seeck, M. (2004). Out-of-body experience and autoscopy of neurological origin. Brain, 127(Pt 2), 243-258.
  2. Blanke, O., Ortigue, S., Landis, T., & Seeck, M. (2002). Stimulating illusory own-body perceptions. Nature, 419(6904), 269-270.
  3. Blanke, O., Mohr, C., Michel, C. M., Pascual-Leone, A., Brugger, P., Seeck, M., et al. (2005). Linking out-of-body experience and self processing to mental own-body imagery at the temporoparietal junction. Journal of Neuroscience, 25(3), 550-557.
  4. Arzy, S., Thut, G., Mohr, C., Michel, C. M., & Blanke, O. (2006). Neural basis of embodiment: Distinct contributions of temporoparietal junction and extrastriate body area. Journal of Neuroscience, 26(31), 8074-8081.
  5. Blanke, O., & Arzy, S. (2005). The out-of-body experience: Disturbed self-processing at the temporo-parietal junction. Neuroscientist, 11(1), 16-24
  6. Persinger, Michael M. (2001). The neuropsychiatry of paranormal experiences Neuropsychiatric Practice and Opinion, 13(4), 521-522.

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