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What Causes Spooky Out-of-Body Experiences? It Could Be Your Ears

While driving and accelerating in his car, a patient in France suddenly had a bizarre sensation. He felt like he was outside his car, looking in at his physical self, which was still at the wheel. The patient was part of a new study that links problems of the inner ear with eerie "out-of-body" experiences. These experiences arecurious, usually brief sensations in which a person's consciousness seems to exitthe body and then view the body from the outside. The study analyzed 210 patients who had visited their doctors with so-called vestibular disorders. The vestibular system, which is made up of several structures in the inner ear, provides the body with a sense of balance and spatial orientation. Problems with this system can cause dizziness or a floating sensation, among other symptoms. Maya Elzière, an ear, nose and throat specialist at Hôpital Européen in Marseille, France, and co-author of the study, enlisted patients who had experienced a range of issues, from recurrent vertigo and tinnitus to infections in the ear. Among these patients, 14 percent reported out-of-body experiences, compared with only 5 percent of healthy people without vestibular disorders who said the same. "Out-of-body experiences were about three times more frequent" in patients with vestibular disorders, versus those without these disorders, said Christophe Lopez, lead author of the study and a neuroscientist at Aix-Marseille Université in France. Lopez said the example of the patient who felt like he was outside his body while accelerating in his car makes sense. The scientist explained that since the vestibular system would be responsible for orienting the driver and giving him the sensation of moving forward as he accelerated in a car, a faulty vestibular system could send crossed signals to the brain during the motion. "If you are sending the wrong signals to your brain about your motion, it creates confusion — your brain has to make sense of conflicting information," Lopez told Live Science. "We think the conflicting signals create a kind of central incoherence, and that creates distortions in the sense of your body and the environment around you." Read More: Live Science

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