An out-of-body experience is often described as feeling like you’ve left your physical body. There are many potential causes, including several medical conditions and experiences.

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An out-of-body experience (OBE) is a sensation of your consciousness leaving your body. These episodes are often reported by people who’ve had a near-death experience. Some might also describe an OBE as a dissociative episode.

People typically experience their sense of self inside their physical body. You most likely view the world around you from this vantage point. But during an OBE, you may feel as if you’re outside yourself, looking at your body from another perspective.

What really goes on during an OBE? Does your consciousness actually leave your body? Experts aren’t totally sure, but they have a few hunches, which we’ll get into later.

It’s hard to nail down what an OBE feels like, exactly.

According to accounts from people who’ve experienced them, they generally involve:

  • a feeling of floating outside your body
  • an altered perception of the world, such as looking down from a height
  • the feeling that you’re looking down at yourself from above
  • a sense that what’s happening is very real

OBEs typically happen without warning and usually don’t last for very long.

If you have a neurological condition, such as epilepsy, you may be more likely to experience OBEs.They may also happen more frequently. But for many people, an OBE will happen very rarely, maybe only once in a lifetime if at all.

Some estimates suggest around 5 percent of people have experienced the sensations associated with an OBE, though some suggest this number may be higher.

There’s some debate over whether the sensations and perceptions associated with OBEs happen physically or as a sort of hallucinatory experience.

A recent 2022 review tried to explore this by evaluating a variety of studies and case reports evaluating consciousness, cognitive awareness, and recall in people who survived cardiac arrest.

They noted that some people report experiencing a separation from their body during resuscitation and some even reported an awareness of events they wouldn’t have seen from their actual perspective.

In addition, one study included in the review noted that two participants reported having both visual and auditory experiences while in cardiac arrest. Only one was well enough to follow up, but he gave an accurate, detailed description of what took place for about three minutes of his resuscitation from cardiac arrest.

Still, there’s no scientific evidence to support the idea that a person’s consciousness can actually travel outside the body.

Veridical perception

Veridical perception is a controversial concept. It refers to the idea that you can leave your body during an OBE, allowing you to witness something that you may not have otherwise.

Some anecdotal reports of this phenomena exist, with a few people even providing specific, accurate details about events that have happened during surgical procedures or while clinically dead.

Many people use these stories as evidence to support the existence of life after death.

However, the idea of veridicial perception is still limited to anecdotal claims and there is no research available to support it.

One older 2014 study investigating the validity of veridical perception in people who had survived cardiac arrest found that neither of the two individuals who reported awareness during resuscitation were able to identify specific items that were only viewable from above.

No one’s sure about the exact causes of OBEs, but experts have identified several possible explanations.

Stress or trauma

A frightening, dangerous, or difficult situation can provoke a fear response, which might cause you to dissociate from the situation and feel as if you’re an onlooker. This may make you feel as though you are watching the events from somewhere outside your body.

According to 2017 research reviewing the experience of women in labor, OBEs during childbirth aren’t unusual.

The study didn’t specifically link OBEs to post-traumatic stress disorder, but the authors did point out that women who had OBEs had either gone through trauma during labor or another situation not related to childbirth.

This suggests that OBEs could occur as a way to cope with trauma, but more research is needed on this potential link.

Medical conditions

Experts have linked several medical and mental health conditions to OBEs, including:

Dissociative disorders, particularly depersonalization-derealization disorder, can involve frequent feelings or episodes where you seem to be observing yourself from outside your body.

Sleep paralysis has also been noted as a possible cause of OBEs. It refers to a temporary state of waking paralysis that occurs during REM sleep and often involves hallucinations.

Research suggests many people who have OBEs with a near-death experience also often experience sleep paralysis.

In addition, a review of literature from 2020 suggests that sleep-wake disturbances may contribute to dissociative symptoms. This can include a feeling of leaving your body.

Medication and drugs

Some people report having an OBE while under the influence of anesthesia.

Other substances, including cannabis, ketamine, or hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD, can cause this sensation.

Near-death experiences

OBEs can occur during near-death experiences, often alongside other phenomena like flashbacks of previous memories or seeing a light at the end of a tunnel.

Though it’s not clear exactly why this happens, it’s believed to be caused by disruptions in certain areas of the brain involved with processing sensory information. A 2021 review suggests that these experiences may be more likely to occur during life threatening situations, which can include:

  • cardiac arrest
  • traumatic injury
  • brain hemorrhage
  • drowning
  • suffocation

Strong G-forces

Pilots and astronauts sometimes experience OBEs when strong gravitational forces, or G-forces, are encountered. This is because it causes blood to pool in the lower body, which can lead to loss of conscious and may induce an OBE.

Extreme G-forces can also cause spatial disorientation, peripheral vision loss, and disconnection between cognition and the ability to act.


Though not backed by research, some people believe that OBEs can occur when your soul or spirit leaves your body.

One form is known as “traveling clairvoyance,” which some mediums claim allows your soul to visit distant locations in order to gain information.

Others believe that certain meditative practices can help you reach a state of consciousness that transcends the body and mind, leading to an OBE.

Some people also experiment with astral projection, which is a spiritual practice that involves making an intentional effort to send your consciousness from your body toward a spiritual plane or dimension.

However, research as not been able to show that these practices cause OBEs.

Other experiences

OBEs might be able to be induced, intentionally or accidentally, by:

However, additional research is still needed to support this.

Existing research hasn’t connected experiencing spontaneous OBEs to any serious health risks. In some cases, you might feel a bit dizzy or disoriented after.

However, OBEs and dissociation in general can cause lingering feelings of emotional distress.

You might feel confused over what happened or wonder if you have a brain issue or mental health condition. You might also not like the sensation of an OBE and worry about it happening again.

Some people also claim that it’s possible for your consciousness to remain trapped outside of your body following an OBE, but there’s no evidence to support this.

Simply having an OBE doesn’t necessarily mean you need to see a healthcare professional. You may have this experience once just before drifting off to sleep, for example, and never again. If you don’t have any other symptoms, you probably don’t have any reason for concern.

If you feel uneasy about what happened, even if you don’t have any physical or psychological conditions, there’s no harm in mentioning the experience to a doctor. They may be able to help by ruling out serious conditions or offering some reassurance.

It’s also a good idea to talk with a healthcare professional if you’re having any sleep issues, including insomnia or symptoms of sleep paralysis, such as hallucinations.

Recognize an emergency

Seek immediate help if you’ve had an OBE and are experiencing:

  • severe head pain
  • flashing lights in your vision
  • seizures
  • loss of consciousness
  • low mood or changes in mood
  • thoughts of suicide
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Whether your consciousness can truly leave your physical body hasn’t been scientifically proven. But for centuries, many people have reported experiencing sensations of their consciousness leaving their body.

OBEs appear to be more common with some conditions, including certain dissociative disorders and epilepsy. Many people also report having an OBE during a near-death experience, including during cardiac arrest or brain injury.