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If a book is good, readers can easily imagine the story and forget they are reading. If they encounter a problem, perhaps a spelling error or something unbelievable within the universe of the story, the reader suddenly loses this immersion.

  • Is there a formal term which means "something which causes a loss of immersion"?
  • Is there a technical or more formal phrase meaning "to lose immersion"?
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Distracted, Brought back to reality, – Russell McMahon Jan 28 '13 at 15:17
In video game design this is commonly referred to as "breaking immersion". – Marcus_33 Jan 28 '13 at 15:25
I can't find the reference, but I think I've seen this called resurfacing. One definition of resurface is: To come to the surface again; reappear. Maybe someone else can cite a reference. – JLG Jan 28 '13 at 18:07
up vote 5 down vote accepted

The sense of immersion is closely related to what Coleridge described with the phrase "suspension of disbelief" or "willing suspension of disbelief". We know that the events are not true (or maybe, as in the case of science fiction, fantasy or magical realism, even possible), but we suspend the effect of this knowledge and allow ourselves to react as if they were true.

Something which undoes this effect is often referred to as "breaking suspension of disbelief".

More generally, we may just refer to the reader as being distracted, or simply "a break in audience immersion" particularly with the minor details: If I've been reading a story which for 500 pages has brought me through the machinations of an 18th-Century matriarch set upon finding her daughters good marriages and suddenly a UFO lands in her mansion's grounds, I'm likely to find that brings a total break in suspension of disbelief. If I hit upon a clumsy sentence that is hard to parse that will likely distract me from the story in a different way to suspension of disbelief (it could after all happen with a true story I do believe), though it would certainly not help that suspension.

A deliberate attempt to trigger distraction and force the audience to consider the difference between the fiction and reality is often called alienation, distancing effect, estrangement or the German loan-word verfrumdungseffekt. It might be called Brechtian alienation to distinguish it from other uses of that word.

Estrangement can also refer to the continuing knowledge that e.g. a sci-fi story cannot be literally true, even as it happens in tandem with suspension of disbelief.

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Some of these terms could use Wikipedia or dictionary links. Interesting stuff. – coleopterist Jan 28 '13 at 18:05
@coleopterist A search on Coleridge and even more so on the phrase "suspension of disbelief" will provide much on the first bit, and on Bertolt Brecht for the second bit. Just be wary of anything that brings you to tvtropes.org, as that site is even more of a time-sink than stack exchange - it's safe enough until you start opening multiple tabs. – Jon Hanna Jan 28 '13 at 18:19

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