Fictional characters will often describe seeing their lives “flash before their eyes” when close to death, but this experience could actually be a reality.
Scientists have analysed accounts from people who have had near death experiences and identified “life review experience” (LRE) as a trend.
Those involved in the study shared accounts of seeing events from their lives flash before them, but the events rarely occurred in chronological order.
The researchers suggested LRE may occur because certain parts of the brain that stores memories are among the last to shut down when the body is close to death.
The researchers, from Hadassah University in Jerusalem, asked more than 200 people about their encounter of LRE, then analysed seven of these responses in depth.
One common theme was that the individual lost all sense of time when viewing life events.
According to The Telegraph, one participant involved in the study wrote: “There is not a linear progression, there is lack of time limits... It was like being there for centuries. I was not in time/space so this question also feels impossible to answer.
“A moment, and a thousand years... both and neither. It all happened at once, or some experiences within my near death experience were going on at the same time as others, though my human mind separates them into different events.”
Another experience commonly reported was feeling the pain of others. One participant described being able to see their father’s childhood and previously undisclosed pain. Another said they could sense pain and sadness from the people in the room with them when they were close to death.
The researchers identified that parts of the brain known to store memories - such as the prefrontal, medial temporal and parietal cortices - will continue to function for longer than other parts of the brain after serious injury.
That’s because these parts of the brain are not immediately affected by oxygen and blood loss.
As a result, the scientists concluded that these parts of the brain could be responsible for LRE and other characteristics of near death experiences.
The study concluded that “psychological and physiological stress” could lead to such experiences when a person is close to death.
“Re-experiencing one’s own life events, so-called LRE, is a phenomenon with well-defined characteristics, and its subcomponents may be also evident in healthy people,” the authors wrote.
“This suggests that a representation of life events as a continuum exists in the cognitive system, and maybe further expressed in extreme conditions of psychological and physiological stress.”
This is not the first time people who’ve been close to death have revealed similar experiences.
On Reddit, hundreds of people who have been clinically announced as dead in the past shared their experiences of lying in hospital.
Many described feeling as though they were floating above doctors, with one person saying: “It could have been a dream, but I saw my own unconscious body, completely flatlined, in the ambulance. I remember the emergency medical technician who was in the ambulance with me (whom I did not see before I passed out) had mint green hair and I couldn’t remember his name, but I asked for him when I regained consciousness about three days later.”
Others described feelings of peace before they regained consciousness, such as: “My world became soft and foggy and everything faded to black. Next thing I remember was opening my eyes and hearing a Dr say ‘we got him back’. It was really a peaceful feeling more than anything.”
The latest study is published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition.