Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Time distortion and the 'backstory effect'

Distorted clockCertain aspects of any experience mark it out as anomalous. Typically, if an event appears to defy the laws of physics, for instance, it will generally be seen as paranormal. Or if it is associated with a UFO sighting, as extraterrestrial technology being used. One such anomalous 'signature' is time distortion. If an event appears to take a particular time but there are witnesses present who can vouch for it having taken a radically different period, such a distortion is often suspected. So what can cause such effects?

Regular readers will be aware of my acquaintance who experiences microsleep with REM (MWR). Microsleep episodes, where someone briefly falls asleep, usually for seconds, often without being aware of it, are not that rare. Going instantly into a dream state during such a microsleep, IS. Such MWRs are usually associated with a sleep disorder. So they only happen to a tiny percentage of the population. But for those who get them, some experiences can appear distinctly weird, possibly paranormal or extraterrestrial! And they can feature apparent time distortion effects.

Recently, my acquaintance has been getting a specific type of MWR frequently. It goes like this. Sitting quietly, maybe on public transport. Then suddenly, with no warning, whisked away to somewhere completely different. Seconds later, though it can feel much longer, back sitting quietly once again. The bit 'being away' is, obviously, a dream experience. But here's the interesting bit. The dream can feel oddly 'normal', like it is really happening. This is because the experiencer 'just knows' important facts about the situation straight away, without having to look around, ask, read or use any other conventional way of obtaining information. Many people will be familiar with this phenomenon from normal 'long sleep' dreams. It is a bit like viewing one scene from a movie where you've seen the preceding scenes so you know the backstory. Except that you haven't actually seen those preceding scenes at all, you just know what's in them. Let's call it the 'backstory effect', for convenience.

My acquaintance does not recall having noticed this 'backstory effect' before in MWR episodes before. The experiences are reported to feel so real that, to someone experiencing them, who is not familiar with MWR, they might appear disturbingly real. If someone DID believe the experience was real, the presence of an instantly known backstory might appear inexplicable. This might be 'resolved' in some cases by the witness confabulating new false memories. Specifically, they might 'remember' actually having experiences that explain how they 'knew' things that were not obvious from the actual MWR episode itself, even though they never actually happened. To accommodate these additional false memories into their account of the experience would require extra time to have elapsed. So, all of a sudden, the MWR, typically taking seconds, might feel like it was many minutes long! And this time distortion effect would simply add to the impression that the whole things was an anomalous experience.

Of course, we regularly see this sort of 'backstory effect' in normal 'long sleep' dreams but usually pay little attention to it. It is usually obvious when you are dreaming in a 'long' sleep. Furthermore, even when there is an apparent time distortion in a dream, it would not be particularly noticeable over the period of a 'long' sleep. BUT, experienced in a brief few seconds, when supposedly wide awake, the backstory effect can be dramatically unsettling!

It would be worth checking if a witness reporting a time distortion experience has ever had sleep disorders. And if a witness appears to 'just know' stuff that isn't part of their initially reported experience, it could be a strong indication of the backstory effect, pointing to the episode being a dream.

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