Dream-reality confusion: Why old dreams can feel like real memories (2024)

For some people, old dreams can feel like real memories and this experience is referred to as ‘dream-reality confusion’. In two studies by researchers from Maastricht University in the Netherlands, difficulty distinguishing dreaming and reality was reported by a substantial minority of participants (12 per cent in one study and 26 per cent in another).

It has been proposed by other teams of researchers that the experience is particularly common in certain participants (such as those with narcolepsy or borderline personality disorder).

Although there is relatively little research in this area, there are many hypotheses as to why this might occur. One possibility is that the dreams that are confused with reality are different from other dreams (they could be more vivid, for example).

It is also possible that when dream-reality confusion occurs, this could represent unusual memory encoding during sleep (essentially, there is something unusual about the way in which the dream is converted during sleep, before it is stored in long-term memory).

So, how can you tell if you’ve experienced dream-reality confusion? Simply reading this article could help: becoming aware that false memories can develop could have an impact. As one 2021 study found, merely explaining to participants that their recollections could have been based on something other than reality was enough to correct a false memory – while not affecting their ability to remember true events.

Of course, you can also play detective and consider the evidence. If you think that you swam in Lake Constance with a friend but wonder whether it was in fact a dream, you might want to check whether your friend remembers the experience or whether there are any photos or diary entries from the time to confirm that your fun day at the lake really happened.

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Dream-reality confusion: Why old dreams can feel like real memories (2024)


Dream-reality confusion: Why old dreams can feel like real memories? ›

For some people, past dreams can subsequently feel like real memories — an experience commonly referred to as “dream-reality confusion.” If you're scratching your head, wondering how the line between dreams and memories can become so blurred, consider this: Human memory is both fallible and malleable.

Why do my dreams feel like real memories? ›

Sometimes the dreams we have seem so real. Most of the emotions, sensations, and images we feel and visualize are those that we can say we have seen or experienced in real life. This is because the same parts of the brain that are active when we are awake are also active when we are in certain stages of our sleep.

What is it called when you confuse dreams with reality? ›

Persons affected by oneirophrenia have a feeling of dream-like derealization which, in its extreme form, may progress to delusions and hallucinations.

Why do my dreams feel more real than reality? ›

Neurological structures work together to create a vivid perceptual experience, like a visual hallucination, that we sometimes remember, and sometimes don't, upon waking.” If you've had a day or time period that's been full of extreme emotions, it can potentially lead to vivid dreams.

What is it called when a memory feels like a dream? ›

That feeling is often described as déjà vu.

What is oneirophrenia? ›

The term 'Oneirophrenia' describes a state where a person becomes confused about the distinction between reality and dream as if he or she were living in a dream state. 1. The Oxford Dictionary of Psychology defines oneirophrenia a 'dreamlike state of consciousness. 2.

What do you call it when your dream feels real? ›

Lucid dreams are when you know that you're dreaming while you're asleep. You're aware that the events flashing through your brain aren't really happening. But the dream feels vivid and real. You may even be able to control how the action unfolds, as if you're directing a movie in your sleep.

How rare is dream reality confusion? ›

Simply put, tired people sleep more deeply and dream more vividly. An extension of this is dream-reality confusion (DRC) that occurs in approximately 15% of all healthy people with this percentage going up to 83% in patients with narcolepsy and also shows an increase in those with a borderline personality disorder.

Why am I remembering old dreams? ›

Alarm clocks, and irregular sleep schedules can result in abrupt waking during dream or REM sleep, and thus result in recall of dreams. Sleep apnea, alcohol, or anything that disturbs sleep can also cause dream recall,” Dimitriu says.

What is dissociative dreaming? ›

Control enables dreamers to alter the dream plot, dissociation occurs when the dreamer experiences the dream as if it was displayed on a screen, as in waking derealization, or sees himself from the outside, as in waking depersonalization (Sierra and Berrios, 2001; Falkai, 2015; see also Windt and Voss, 2018).

Why am I mixing up dreams with reality? ›

It is also possible that when dream-reality confusion occurs, this could represent unusual memory encoding during sleep (essentially, there is something unusual about the way in which the dream is converted during sleep, before it is stored in long-term memory).

What is epic dreaming? ›

Epic dreaming is a type of disturbed dreaming described as experiencing daytime fatigue. after dreaming all night. To investigate whether such phenomena is simply a vivid dream or more of. a disturbing nightmare, we are going to look at the physiological and psychological aspect of epic.

Are dreams portals to other worlds? ›

Conversely, a riveting conjecture exists that dreams might also function as conduits to alternative dimensions or elevated states of consciousness, suggesting a more profound and expansive role than traditionally conceived.

Why are my dreams so vivid they feel like memories? ›

They have discovered that if you wake up with vivid memories of your dreams, it typically means they occurred during REM sleep. REM sleep is when we tend to dream. The deepest NREM sleep is when the body fully relaxes and repairs itself. Learn about the stages of sleep here.

Why am I reliving my past in my dreams? ›

Deja vu in dreams can happen as a result of this memory blending because parts of several experiences mix together to give the impression that the dreamer is reliving the past. The dream simulation hypothesis, which contends that dreams replicate real-world experiences, is another explanation.

What is Hypermnesia memory? ›

Hypermnesia is a phenomenon in which memory performance improves across repeated tests even though no new exposure to the study material occurs between tests. Hypermnesia is a combined effect of reminiscence (item gains) and intertest forgetting (item losses).

How to tell if a memory is real or a dream? ›

Unfortunately, there's really one way to tell if a memory is real, and that's to compare your memory to independent evidence of the event. However, that may not be possible in a lot of cases and without that independent evidence, people generally only identify false memories correctly about 50% of the time.

What does it mean when your dreams are very realistic? ›

Having vivid dreams every now and then—especially in times of high stress or emotional upheaval—is nothing to worry about. However, mental health does play a role in dream creation, and frequent vivid dreams might be a symptom of a mental health condition.

Why do my dreams come true in real life? ›

Sometimes, dreams come true or tell of a future event. When you have a dream that plays out in real life, experts say it's most likely due to: Coincidence.


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