Recently while driving to the store (a path I have taken hundreds of times before), I was suddenly struck by a feeling that was similar to déjà vu, but in reverse. Specifically, where déjà vu is the feeling "I have seen this before", I was struck by the odd feeling that everything seemed extremely unfamiliar (even though I know the roads well).

Is there a word to describe this "opposite to déjà vu" feeling?

  • 10
    I've heard it jokingly referred to as "Vuja De," but my only sources for this are Urban Dictionary and a George Carlin bit. Commented Jun 2, 2015 at 8:21
  • O God, where am I?
    – ScotM
    Commented Jun 2, 2015 at 8:35
  • 1
    There should be a word for that uncanny feeling.
    – TimR
    Commented Jun 2, 2015 at 9:51
  • 2
    Not remembering a place you've been many times before? Amnesia.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jun 2, 2015 at 12:18
  • Having Brain Damage?
    – Bolza
    Commented Jun 2, 2015 at 18:51

4 Answers 4


In French, we say 'jamais vue', and Wikipedia shows that the term jamais vu has also been adopted into English, mirroring déjà vu.

We use jamais vu to describe the fact that something has already happened to someone, but he feels like it's the first time.

I often experience the feeling myself when I'm concentrating on a particular word; if I keep repeating it, it begins to feel weird, as if it's not really the right word to use.

  • 6
    Yes, you can study this by repeating a given word aloud, and after the twentieth repetition it begins to sound like something in a foreign language.
    – David Pugh
    Commented Jun 2, 2015 at 8:21
  • 4
    Sometimes when I spell words, they just look wrong, even though they're clearly spelled correctly. That being said, I'm not sure I'd agree this phrase is quite idiomatic in English yet.
    – Catija
    Commented Jun 2, 2015 at 8:35
  • 4
    @DavidPugh There's a name for that, too; "Semantic satiation".
    – user4683
    Commented Jun 2, 2015 at 15:37
  • 1
    Yes, I have heard "jamais vu" a number of times, starting maybe 20 years ago. It was the term that came to mind when I saw the question title.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jun 2, 2015 at 15:53
  • 1
    Kim Stanley Robinson uses the expression 'jamais vu' in several of his novels (Blue Mars and Galileo's Dream).
    – zrajm
    Commented Jun 2, 2015 at 21:12

A person may be described / describe themselves as feeling detached from reality, when they realise that the familiar suddenly feels weirdly alien.

SymptomChecker lists quite a few mental disorders which may have this sensation as a symptom, but I'm sure most people have the occasional manifestation, and getting on with everyday life soon corrects one's 'normality settings'.

  • +1 I don't understand the downvote, this seems a perfectly reasonable answer to me.
    – Mynamite
    Commented Jun 2, 2015 at 8:46
  • @Mynamite The above is not as specific as Jaro's. But I'll go with your judgement of relevance:) Commented Jun 2, 2015 at 10:02

The jamais vu experience is similar to alienation.

The Latin word for alien is alienus, "belonging to another." That idea of not belonging, or not fitting in, gave rise to the Latin verb alienare, "to estrange," which alienation comes from.



There is also something known as "proprioception", that allows your brain to take ownership of your body. Think of phantom limb syndrome. One trick psychologists use to test this is to have a subject lay their arm on a table. The subject's real arm is then hidden behind a cloth or partition, and a fake arm is placed approximately where the real arm should be. The psychologist will then apply some kind of pressure, or a pin prick to the subject's real but still hidden arm, and simultaneously do the same to the fake arm. Eventually, the subject's brain will "take ownership" of the fake arm, due to it's confusion about the visual stimuli and the tactile stimuli. So your brain can feel alienated in a usually familiar setting, but can also become alienated from your own body.


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