Migraine and Out of Body Experiences

A relationship between migraine and out of body experiences?  Really?

You may be wondering if I’m serious – or if I’m that desperate for topics that I’m reaching for some that are a bit on the bizarre side.

The truth is, no, I’m not in any way at a loss for things to write about.  I’ve chosen this one on purpose – I am serious, and I have a feeling there are a number of migraineurs out there that are thankful someone is talking about this.

Migraine and out-of-body experiences

Our of Body Experiences – a Symptom of Migraine?

It has been known for some time that out of body experiences, or OBEs, are a possible symptom of migraine.  This is not to say that all OBEs can be attributed to migraine.  But I have a hunch (and I’m not the only one) that this symptom is more common than we think – that it’s under reported.

I was recently reading a discussion of migraine and OBEs from the 80s.  And back in 1999, Derek Robinson and Dr. Klaus Podoll suggested that OBEs were a migraine symptom, based on their observations of migraine art (see Out-of-body experiences and related phenomena in migraine art.).  An example of this migraine art can be seen online here.

And as they demonstrated in their recent book Migraine Art, this doesn’t just come from observations of the art but from testimonies of patients themselves.  In fact, they list 17 medical case reports (about 70% female, 30% male, between the ages of 17 and 66) of out-of-body and related experiences in migraine patients.  Most of these patients had repeated OBEs.

Under reported?

Why this would be under reported is obvious.  As one patient put it:

I have never told anyone else, as I have not wanted to be called or thought of as queer, and even a supposedly understanding doctor might lift his eyebrows at some of the happenings of a migraine victim, who learns to keep things strictly to herself, excluding both family and physician from her confidence.
-from Hallucinations of physical duality in migraine by Dr. Caro W Lippman, quoted in Migraine Art.

What is an Out-of-Body experience?

You probably already know that there’s a lot of controversy about what exactly OBEs are.  There’s those who believe the soul actually leaves the body, of course, but there is also a great deal of discussion in the medical community about what may be going on neurologically – physically – in the brain.

Because hallucinations of various kinds are common in migraine attacks, a strong theory is that there is a relationship between migraine and OBEs, and that these OBEs are another type of hallucination coming from memory and imagination.

But we’re putting a lot under this category – let’s look at how some patients described their symptoms (mostly from the book Migraine Art):

  • the feeling of my transparent body leaving my physical body
  • toward early morning I woke up, and instead of being in bed I was suspended in the air halfway toward the ceiling.  I looked on the bed and saw myself lying asleep
  • one patient reported the extraordinary sensation of being drawn out horizontally through a small hole in the centre of the skull
  • Some patients are simply aware of the presence of an invisible double
  • One male patient says, suddenly I would become aware of a ‘second self,’ vaguer than and more tenuous than the original ‘me.’  I felt just like a double exposure looks.
  • Like I’ll feel like my hands are at my sides, but they’re folded in my lap. It’s real bad when I feel like I’m sideways, but I’m sitting up in my chair. (quoted here)

Sometimes these experiences last a split second, sometimes longer.  Sometimes they happen in bed, sometimes while going about normal daily activities.

And this doesn’t even take into account other bodily hallucinations felt by migraineurs – for example, the awareness of another ‘presence’ in the room, or the feeling that one part of your body has ‘stretched’, or that your head is actually splitting open, and so on and so on.  There are so many variations it’s hard to know how to categorize them.

But is it really a migraine symptom?

We don’t know – and the reason is that many people report OBEs, and many people are migraineurs.  You would expect that there would be overlap.  Also, is the OBE actually a symptom of migraine, or a symptom coming from a common cause?  And what part does medication play?

But there are good arguments in favour of considering OBEs a real migraine symptom.  For example:

  • Hallucinations of various kinds are very common in migraine
  • OBEs in migraine patients often go along with other better-known symptoms of a migraine attack.  In other words, the OBE comes along at the same time as the attack, and often is intertwined with other symptoms.

Why this article is here

We’re talking about this today because

  • It shows once again how unique migraine symptoms can be
  • We need to get this information out in the open because people do need to talk to their doctors about it.
  • There are some of you out there with these symptoms who are afraid to share with anyone – you’re not alone.
  • For those that have these symptoms, you need to know there is research being done.  This is not an unheard of symptom, although we certainly understand very little about it.

So please share your comments and thoughts if you’re willing – let’s learn more about this aspect of migraine, which may be more common than most people think…

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20 comments… add one

  • Jonathan Wagar Jan 16, 2010

    I find this to be very interesting. I have been curious about many of the more isoteric symptons that come with migraines. I am a man with a very strong belief in the meta physics and paranormal stuff. I have been interested in this sort of thing for just a little longer than I have had migraines (I have had a constant migraine for nearly 15 years now). I have had many OBE experiences and many other the other things that were mentioned above. My curiosity had always been that the migraines were more caused by the OBE’s and what not. Not the other way around. That I am not in any way an isolated case is fascinating to me. It never ceases to amaze me that the more we study the body, particularly the brain, the more we find questions that many of us do not really want to except the answers.

  • Severt Nielsen Feb 1, 2010

    My wife has suffered with aura migraines for 25 years. In the early years she would have several aura episodes a year, then went for many years with just 3 or 4 episodes a year. Now, she is have these aura experiences just about every week with the headaches to follow of course. Here in the last couple of years she has been experiencing what she describes as a “disconnected” feeling at times and sometimes she says it feels like a rubber band has just been popped in her head. Of course these episodes are very frightening for her. I’d be very grateful to anyone who could point me in right direction to get my wife some relief.

    • jay l. Jan 3, 2011

      I hope this makes sense. I have had the feeling of flying out of my body during some migraines. I found that holding my husband’s hand or arm made me feel more grounded. Holding certain stones also seemed to ease the feeling that I am being pulled out of my body.

  • unreported_experience Feb 5, 2010

    I began taking medication for migraines at age four. They diagnosed me with migraines without aura, but I realized much later in life I just thought aura symptoms were normal, and at that point didn’t want to mention them as they would just disturb my parents and not me. I remember often feeling as if I was about 3 inches above and to the left of my body, except for my head which seemed attached. I would also frequently cling to covers of my bed to avoid falling off, as there was no amount of reason that could convince my mind it wasn’t turned sideways; alternatively I would black out and then see pretty yellow lights floating round and get this incredible fuzzy feeling that I dearly miss to this day since my migraines went away in adulthood. I thought I could feel the world turning lol; I can easily see in more life threatening circumstances with adrenaline and other things playing part people believing they’re on the way to heaven/ hell and leaving their body behind

  • tania o connor Sep 18, 2010

    Thank god i’m not the only person experiencing this strange feeling, after every migraine attack i have there is a period of time where its as though there are two of me in the same body or maybe a better way to explain it is that my soul hasn’t re-attached to my body properly?!? when i move a part of my body it’s like another part of me is trying to catch up with that movement in slow motion, like a double exposure. Its the strangest feeling. I would love an explanation for this.

    • jay l. Jan 3, 2011

      I can’t explain why, but I experience the same thing. I have to move very gingerly because some of my energy flaps around like long hair. I find it comforting to sit on the ground or walk barefoot outside.

  • Amy S Jan 1, 2011

    I was diagnosed with migraines when I was about eight years old after seizures were ruled out. I can remember lying in bed, and having the feeling of being on a merry-go-round above my bed. It was a fantastic sensation of peace and calm; it alerted me that I was about to fall asleep. I can’t in all honestly, say if a migraine ever followed or preceded.

    It wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I even heard of an OBE, let alone associated the two. I’d always assumed that it was a normal experience that no one ever talked about.

  • joseph Mar 20, 2011

    telling this kind of experience even to the most understanding doctor can be very sobering. I have migraines in which I begin to be aware of various different realities. They are very real and happen simultaneously. But when I try to follow them, I realize that it is not a concrete reality. I try hard to hang onto what I know is a reality, but sometimes the other streams of reality invade and you don’t realize it. And then after 4 hours or so it is over. Very alarming and frightening. I have just gone through extensive tests including 4 MRIs which showed that everything is totally normal. A very healthy guy with strange migraines. I have recently started using an NTI device and I think it is helping a lot. So interested in others experiences.

  • viv Oct 20, 2011

    I myself experience such things along with my frequent (& severe) migraines.
    Oftentimes the people around me will ask “what are you looking at? are you okay?” and I have the strange sensation that I’m not inside my body at all, but in a sort of tunnel in front of myself.
    I also have NOT told people about this, because I was worried of their reaction. I tell those who ask me if I’m ‘ok’ that I’m *zoned out*.

    Maybe it’s a pain response? Or perhaps the pain is a response to this occurance?

  • Heather Dec 2, 2011

    Wow. Years ago I asked my doctor if one migraine symptom was feeling like there was a dream world going on right next to me, or behind a closed door. It’s happened a few times in the intervening years, as if another reality is operating very close by.

    In recent years, persistent deja vu is one of my signals that a migraine is imminent in the next couple of days. I will feel constant deja vu for several minutes.

  • Joseph McClain Dec 2, 2011

    and I have to say wow, too, Heather. I know exactly what you are talking about. It came to a crisis situation for me last year on Christmas day and continued for months after that. For that reason I am working hard on myself not to dread this season. But is was scary.I am working on a book in which that period is a major piece. If you want I will send it to you. Let me know. My email: [email protected]. EVERYONE LET’S KEEP COMMUNICATING…AT LEAST FOR ME THIS IS IMPORTANT.

  • Rich Jul 29, 2013

    I’m not sure if anyone is still responding to this thread, but I was diagnosed with silent migraine by my neurologist. I have very strong auras without the pain. That said, I still get intense migraine induced vertigo, violent, split-second OBEs, and auditory hallucinations. Turns out ALL of these symptoms occur over the top of my temporal lobes. Because OBEs are also associated with this area of the brain, this should not be considered an uncommon occurence if other symptoms in the same neurological region exist. My neurologist explained it this way: normal migraines proceed from the back of the brain (visual cortex) and cause visual disturbances – then travel over the brain causing crushing pain – then finally to the frontal lobe causing problems with thinking and processing – followed by fatigue. In my case, instead of advancing over the top of my brain, the disturbance is wrapping around the sides – causing the balance, hallucination, OBE issues. Hope that helps!

  • Joseph McClain Jul 31, 2013

    Thanks, Rich, for your post. This is all really helpful. Let’s do keep this thread going because even some other migrainuers look at me like I have lost mind when I talk about these kind of events. QUESTION FOR ANYONE and EVERYONE; Has any kind of medicine or anything else been helpful for you? How do you treat one of these migraines while it is happening? Thanks.

  • Rich Jul 31, 2013

    It may be helpful to refer any of your friends who may think you are crazy to this wikipedia article on the temporoparietal junction: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temporoparietal_junction

    It clearly indicates that the area is associated with OBEs and provides peer-reviewed research to support it. As far as medication, I have only been presecribed topamax, which by my understanding, is a normal migraine medication that only reduces the number of times the symptoms occur (but doesn’t eliminate them entirely). It’s too early to know if it’s having any effect yet. My dosage is low and pretty recent. I’ll repost if I have any significant changes. I’m also interested to hear if anyone is on something specific that seems to work.

  • Claireliza Sep 27, 2013

    I get into a trance like state when trying to sleep through a migraine. I am neither fully awake nor fully asleep. My body is on the bed but I am usually hovering above or to the side. I try to open my eyes but they are too heavy, I try to get back into my body but I cant.

  • chris hinkins Sep 28, 2013

    I’m now 60 and have suffered from migraines since age 13. Headaches last anything from an hour to several days. Over the years the prelinimanary symptoms have gradually changed. I used to get the classic ‘jagged-edged hole in the vision’. Few years ago had wierd episode where nothing seemed real and words I was reading made no sense. Migraine headache followed within an hour or so. Just been away on quite stressful trip, and had several episodes when felt swimmy, and as if watching myself from a distance. Migraine headache has come on this morning, so am assuming they are linked. My mother used to say when she was working as a typist, she was inclined to type words backwards before a headache

  • Neeruam Nov 26, 2013

    In my early 20’s I started having these strange waves of sensations where my body would heat up, I’d start to get light headed, and feel sort of raised over or out of my body, while feeling a horrible wave of anxiety. These episodes became more and more frequent and eventually progressed to full migraine. During an episode of migraine these waves or outer body sensations come and go for up to 36hrs. They last a few minutes at a time, and even wake me up while I’m sleeping. During an episode I am aware of my surroundings and what is going on but am unable to communicate properly. Words get mixed up, or I feel like I know what I want to say but it just won’t come out of my mouth. I am now 30 and suffer from migraine roughly every month. It has severely affected my memory, particularly my short term memory. For a few days before a migraine I have a lot of dejavu, and my mind fells slower and Im less capable of multi tasking and concentrating. I have tried a few different medications, but none have really helped. One seemed to help ease the horrible feeling of fear or anxiety, but had no effect on the rest of the migraine symptoms.
    I have seen a couple of different Doctors and Consultants. A lot of whom seem to be in disbelief of my symptoms. I guy told me there was nothing that could be done to help. The most recent consultant I am seeing has told me that in no doubt I am suffering from migraine but my symptoms / aura or wave I experience and the way it comes and goes is not typical.
    Good to hear I am not alone. If any is doing research in the area I would be more than willing to help. It is very debilitating and effects all aspects of my life. Pain I can live with but the effect on my memory and function is horrible and makes life very difficult.

  • janice Dec 29, 2013

    I have suffered with migraines since i was a teen.In my mdd 40s now. Over the years they have changed and are never predictable or caused by food triggers. If sometimes left untreated I can get a terrible feeling of being in a another time in place, usually back to the 1970s and it is so hard to explain,its like i know where i am but iam also in the past, I hate this feeling. However it is good to finely know i am not alone.

  • Katy Jul 28, 2014

    I have OBE ‘s as well, and have for many years. They come with no warning and last a few seconds or minutes. I can be carrying on a conversation, and suddenly I am outside my body. I get really shook up and try to carry on, but sometimes it is obvious to others that I am not. I don’t want to say anything because I think it may make it worse.
    Fresh air helps, rescue remedy does, and a small dose of diazepam helps after the fact. Getting away from bright lights, or fluorescent lights as they can trigger the feelings. Today I was at a hospital visiting, and I had the sudden out of body and aura flashing at the outside of my eyes. Currently I am having a mild migraine, getting worse. I find if I am in a store or around a lot of people, I am getting them more frequently as of late, and have also been under a tremendous amount of stress. Few days back there may have been a precursor, I was writing a check at the grocers,and I felt so out of body, the clerk chatting at me and I could not process. I wrote my check but it was difficult, I thought I may black out. I excused my self and asked to leave my groceries and I got outside. Clerk brought my groceries and asked if I was ok, by then I was, just shook up. My sinuses feel pressure as well. It is a horrid feeling. I am avoiding any place where I am to overwhelmed, like crowds, or stores with bright lights.. I cannot think of any foods as triggers, however I have wheat free, for about a year and had a whole wheat sandwich. Now thinking this may have been a trigger. Just adding my symptoms, it seems that many of you may actually understand what I am trying to convey. Best wishes to you all, and it is good to hear I am not alone.

  • Jill Aug 23, 2014

    I sometimes have strange, disconnected feelings or other-reality symptoms with my migraines, but I’d never really thought of them as OBE’s, although from some of the descriptions, maybe that’s what they are. Anyone ever have an Alice in Wonderland Syndrome (AiWS) migraine episode? That’s pretty freaky. A few weeks ago I was laying on the couch with my eyes closed trying to get my migraine under control when I began to just feel strange. For a moment, I felt like my mental awareness was above my body (OBE?). Then, still with my eyes clothes, it seemed my arm began to grow longer and longer until it was long enough to reach down the hall into my son’s room. I really have no idea how long this lasted as I was feeling rather ‘floaty’ the whole time, my eyes were closed, and I had really had no sense of time. Could have been 5 minutes, 15 minutes or a half hour..I just don’t know. I do know that when it was over I felt kind of giddy and I remember that I didn’t really experience any pain during the episode. Very weird. By the way, I was diagnosed with migraines when I was around 16 and I am now 43.

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