NDEs are triggered during a life-threatening situation when the body is injured by blunt trauma, e.g., a heart attack or shock.
Many survivors tell of leaving their damaged bodies behind and entering a realm beyond everyday existence, freed from the usual boundaries of space and time. These powerful experiences can lead to a transformation of their lives.
Not all NDEs are positive - some can be frightening, with intense terror, anguish, loneliness, and despair. Distressing NDEs are underreported because of shame, social stigma, and pressure to conform to the positive NDEs.
A close encounter with death reminds us of the fragility of life and can reveal the layers of psychological suppression that prevents us from these uncomfortable thoughts.
A 2017 study found that NDEs were recalled with greater clarity and detail than either real or imagined situations were. In other words, NDEs were remembered as being more real than life itself.
NDEs are no more likely to occur in devout believers than in secular or nonpracticing subjects.
When the body is starved of blood flow and oxygen, the electrical activity in the brain has broken down. Like a town that loses power one neighborhood at a time, regions of the brain go offline one after another. In the process, the mind tells a story shaped by the person's experience, memory, and cultural expectations.
For the person undergoing an NDE, it is as real as anything the mind produces during normal waking.
Many neurologists have noted similarities between NDEs and the effects of complex partial seizures. These seizures are localized to specific brain regions in one hemisphere and are accompanied by unusual tastes, smells, or bodily feelings as well as feelings of déjà vu, depersonalization, or ecstatic feelings.
Neurosurgeons are able to induce such ecstatic feelings by electrically stimulating part of the cortex in epileptic patients who have electrodes implanted in their brains. Patients report enhanced well-being and a heightened perception of the external world.
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