The idea that our lives flash before our eyes in the moments before we die may sound close to mystical, but neurologists at Hadassah University in Jerusalem say the phenomenon—or at least some version of it—appears to be quite common. They found, however, that "life review experiences," or LREs, don't play out as Hollywood movies might suggest: The images that bombard the brain aren't chronological. In fact, time itself seems to be distorted as memories, often acutely emotional, rush back simultaneously, the researchers report in the journal Consciousness and Cognition. As a post at New York puts it: LREs are "a super-concentrated version of mental processes that happen every day." To investigate, the scientists conducted in-depth analyses of seven accounts of people who reported having LREs.
Participants described time playing out differently, i.e.: "There is not a linear progression, there is lack of time limits. ... A moment, and a thousand years ... both and neither." Another common feature: People said they experienced emotions from the perspective of loved ones: "I could individually go into each person and I could feel the pain that they had in their life," says one. "I was seeing, feeling these things about him [my father], and he was sharing with me the things of his early childhood and how things were difficult for him." So what's going on? Researchers say more study is needed to figure what is happening in the brain at such times, but one theory is that things start going a little haywire in areas where memory is stored as oxygen diminishes. (This man suffers from persistent deja vu.)