The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about significant changes in the way we live our lives. From social distancing and wearing masks to quarantining and staying indoors, the pandemic has forced us to adapt to a new way of life.
However, these changes have also led to a rise in mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). One of the lesser-known effects of COVID-19 is the experience of unexplainable presence and hallucinations.
Hallucinations are defined as sensory perceptions that are not based on reality. They can occur in any of the five senses, including sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. While hallucinations can occur in healthy individuals under certain circumstances, such as sleep deprivation or the use of certain drugs, they are often associated with mental health disorders, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and PTSD.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many individuals have reported experiencing hallucinations, often associated with a sense of unexplainable presence. This experience involves the sensation of being watched, followed, or accompanied by an entity that cannot be seen, heard, or touched. Some people have described feeling as though they were being followed by a ghost or a presence that they could not explain.
While the experience of unexplainable presence may seem frightening, it is not necessarily a symptom of a mental health disorder. In fact, it is a common experience reported by many people who have gone through traumatic events. For example, soldiers who have experienced combat often report feeling a sense of unexplainable presence when they return home.
The experience of unexplainable presence during the COVID-19 pandemic may be related to the stress and uncertainty caused by the pandemic. Many people have been isolated from their loved ones, lost their jobs, and experienced financial hardships as a result of the pandemic. These stressors can lead to feelings of anxiety and depression, which can in turn lead to hallucinations and the experience of unexplainable presence.
There is evidence to suggest that the experience of unexplainable presence in patients with COVID-19 may be related to immunological factors. COVID-19 triggers a significant immune response that involves the activation of many different immune cells and the release of cytokines, small proteins that help regulate the immune response.
One theory is that the experience of unexplainable presence is related to the release of cytokines in response to the virus. Cytokines can cross the blood-brain barrier and affect the functioning of the brain, leading to a range of neurological symptoms, including the feeling of an unexplainable presence.
Additionally, the pandemic has led to a significant increase in the use of technology, particularly video conferencing and social media. While these tools have allowed us to stay connected with friends and family, they have also led to a phenomenon known as “Zoom fatigue,” where people feel exhausted and drained after prolonged periods of video conferencing. This fatigue can lead to an overactive imagination, which may contribute to the experience of unexplainable presence.
If you are experiencing hallucinations or the sensation of unexplainable presence, it is important to seek help from a mental health professional. While these experiences may be normal reactions to stress and trauma, they can also be symptoms of a mental health disorder that requires treatment.
In any case….
The feeling of a presence is a fascinating and mysterious phenomenon that has intrigued humans for centuries. Whether it is the sensation of a ghostly presence in an empty room, the feeling of being watched, or the sense that someone is standing behind us, this experience has been reported by people across cultures and throughout history.
While some may dismiss these experiences as mere figments of the imagination or superstition, recent scientific research has shed new light on the neuroscience behind the feeling of a presence.
One of the most compelling explanations for the feeling of a presence is the mind-body connection. Our brains are constantly processing information from our senses and our bodies, creating a complex map of our environment and our physical state. When this mapping system is disrupted, whether through illness, injury, or other factors, it can lead to distortions in our perception of reality.
One example of this can be seen in the case of sleep paralysis, a condition in which the body is temporarily paralyzed during sleep. During these episodes, people may experience vivid hallucinations, including the sensation of a presence in the room. This is thought to be due to a disruption in the normal mapping of sensory and bodily information that occurs during sleep.
As a result, the brain may interpret sensations such as the sound of one’s own breathing or the pressure of the bed sheets as evidence of another presence.
Similarly, studies have shown that disruptions in sensory expectations can also lead to the feeling of a presence. For example, in one study, researchers used a robot to create the sensation of touching one’s own back. When the synchronicity between the robot and the participant’s movements was disrupted, some participants reported feeling as though another person was present. This suggests that our brains use sensory information to create a sense of self, and that disruptions in this process can lead to distortions in our perception of reality.
Another fascinating example of the mind-body connection in the feeling of a presence comes from the world of endurance sports. Athletes who push themselves to their physical limits may experience a range of hallucinatory phenomena, including the feeling of a presence. This is thought to be due to a combination of physical and psychological factors, such as exhaustion, dehydration, and the release of endorphins. As the body and mind are pushed to their limits, the normal mapping of sensory and bodily information may be disrupted, leading to the perception of another presence.
While the mind-body connection is a compelling explanation for the feeling of a presence, it is not the only one. Some researchers have suggested that the feeling of a presence may be related to electromagnetic fields, which are produced by the body and can interact with the environment. Others have proposed that the feeling of a presence may be related to spiritual or supernatural experiences, such as encounters with ghosts or spirits.
Despite these varied explanations, there is still much we do not know about the feeling of a presence. One challenge in studying this phenomenon is that it is difficult to measure or quantify. Many people who report feeling a presence do so in subjective terms, describing the experience as a feeling or a sensation rather than a concrete visual or auditory phenomenon.
Recent scientific research has shed new light on the feeling of a presence, highlighting the complex interplay between the brain, the body, and the environment in shaping our perceptions of reality. As we continue to explore the mysteries of the human mind and body, we may gain a deeper understanding of this fascinating and elusive phenomenon.
Another interesting area of research in this field is the study of near-death experiences (NDEs), which are often reported by individuals who have been resuscitated after experiencing cardiac arrest. Some people describe feeling a sense of detachment from their physical body and experiencing a state of enhanced awareness or consciousness.
They may also report encountering deceased loved ones or seeing a bright light. While the exact cause of NDEs is still not fully understood, some researchers speculate that they may be linked to altered states of consciousness caused by changes in brain function during periods of reduced oxygen supply.
These are some of the reasons for this phenomenon:
- Sensory Deprivation: When we are alone in an empty room, we are often deprived of sensory input. Our brains are accustomed to processing a constant stream of sensory information, and when that input is suddenly removed, it can lead to a feeling of disorientation and vulnerability. This state of sensory deprivation can create a heightened sense of alertness and make us more susceptible to perceiving sensory cues that may not actually be present.
- Fear and Anxiety: Fear and anxiety can also play a role in the feeling of a presence. When we are afraid or anxious, our brains go into a state of heightened arousal, and we become hyper-vigilant for potential threats. This can make us more sensitive to subtle changes in our environment and more likely to interpret them as signs of danger.
- Expectations and Beliefs: Our expectations and beliefs about the supernatural and paranormal can also influence our perceptions. If we believe in ghosts or other supernatural beings, we may be more likely to interpret ambiguous sensory cues as evidence of their presence. Similarly, if we have heard stories or legends about a particular place or experience, our expectations may influence how we interpret our own experiences in that context.
- Neurological Factors: There are several neurological factors that may contribute to the feeling of a presence. For example, the temporoparietal junction (TPJ) is an area of the brain that integrates information from our senses and our bodies. Disruptions to this area, such as through brain stimulation or injury, can lead to the experience of a presence. Additionally, changes in brain function during periods of reduced oxygen supply, such as during cardiac arrest, may also contribute to the experience of a near-death experience and the feeling of a presence.
Several chemical changes occur in the brain that can contribute to the feeling of a presence. Here are some of the steps that occur in the brain that may help explain why we sometimes feel the presence of another when we are alone in an empty room:
- Activation of the Amygdala: The amygdala is a small, almond-shaped structure in the brain that plays a key role in processing emotions. When we feel afraid or anxious, the amygdala is activated and triggers a cascade of chemical changes in the brain. This activation can occur when we are in an empty room and feel vulnerable or exposed, leading to the feeling of a presence.
- Release of Stress Hormones: The amygdala triggers the release of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones activate the body’s “fight or flight” response, which prepares us to either confront a threat or run away from it. The release of these hormones can create a feeling of unease and contribute to the perception of a presence.
- Altered Perception of Time: When we are in a state of fear or anxiety, our perception of time can become distorted. Time can seem to slow down or speed up, making us feel as though we are in the presence of another even though no one is actually there. This altered perception of time may be due to changes in the activity of the prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain that is involved in the perception of time.
- Disruption of Sensory Processing: The feeling of a presence may also be due to disruptions in the processing of sensory information. When we are alone in an empty room, our brains are deprived of sensory input, which can lead to a heightened sensitivity to any stimuli that are present. This sensitivity can create the perception of a presence, even if there is no actual stimulus present.
- Activation of the Temporoparietal Junction: As mentioned earlier, the temporoparietal junction (TPJ) is an area of the brain that integrates information from our senses and our bodies. Disruptions to this area, such as through brain stimulation or injury, can lead to the experience of a presence. This activation may also be due to the release of certain neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, which can influence our perception of the world around us.
A new study highlight the role of bodily cues and sensory expectations in creating a sense of presence, and the ways in which disruptions in these cues can lead to the perception of another presence.
The study by Shahar Arzy and colleagues, in which a woman experienced a “shadow figure” while her brain was being electrically stimulated in the left temporoparietal junction, is particularly interesting. This suggests that the brain’s processing of sensory and bodily information in this area plays a crucial role in creating the perception of a presence.
The experiments in 2014 also show how disruptions in sensory expectations can lead to the perception of another presence, highlighting the complex interplay between the brain, the body, and the environment in shaping our perceptions.
Your research on the similarities in presences across different contexts, including clinical accounts, spiritual practices, and endurance sports, is also intriguing. It suggests that there may be common underlying mechanisms that give rise to the feeling of a presence across different domains, despite their diverse origins.
Overall, the neuroscience behind the feeling of a presence when alone in an empty room is a fascinating area of research. While there is still much we don’t understand about this phenomenon, we have made significant strides in recent years in understanding the underlying mechanisms in the brain that give rise to these experiences. As our understanding of the brain continues to advance, we may be able to unlock even more secrets about the mysteries of the mind and the subjective experiences that make us human.