What is An Out-of-Body Experience?
Throughout your psychedelic therapy protocol, particularly within an individual psychedelic experience, you may come to have what is known as an “out-of-body experience.”
If you’ve spent any time reading through individual stories online or on forums, or in speaking with others who have had a psychedelic experience before, you may hear familiar themes along this line, such as “I left my body,” or “I was looking back on myself.”
Without having had this experience before, these reports can seem like exaggerations, overly fantastical, or downright baffling.
Whether you have recently had an experience like this that you would like to understand further, or you are interested in exploring this topic more, we’ll cover the definitions, characteristics, and the process of integrating out-of-body experiences.
Defining Out-Of-Body Experience
As with any sensation within the psychedelic experience, due to the often indescribable quality of the experience, it is challenging to effectively put these experiences into words.
With that disclaimer in place, an out-of-body experience (OBE), can be likened to a dissociative episode. Dissociation is the direct experience of separating consciousness from the body, of a felt distinction or separation between the mind of the body.
This is pointing towards what an out-of-body experience is: the direct felt experience of an individual's consciousness being outside, above, or somewhere that is not contained within their body.
During waking or regular consciousness, most individuals would say that their sense of self is located within their body. What can make OBEs so powerful, challenging, or interesting is the direct experience of having one’s center of identity no longer be within the body. Rather, it’s perceived as outside of the body, either close by or far away, or felt to exist outside of material reality altogether.
Of course, these phenomena are dependent on the nature of the experience, the intensity of the sensations, how the individual assimilates this information, and many other facts.
For the purposes of this resource: OBEs are the direct experiences of having your sense of Self be located outside of your body.
Hallmarks of Out-Of-Body Experiences
There are a few classic hallmarks that can be used to identify an OBE, though the most simple heuristic is the lived experience of the individual who experienced it.
One of the factors that can make these experiences so significant is that it is quite apparent whether it has happened to you, particularly if this is the first time an experience like this has ever happened.
There are a few hallmarks, or defining phenomenological characteristics, that you can look to when trying to define or discover whether you had an OBE or what it meant:
- Disembodiment: The location of the individuals Self (Ego) distinctly outside of the confines of the physical body.
- Elevated perception: The sense of seeing and experiencing the world from an elevated level of perception, or a distanced visio-spacial location. This remains ego-centric (the sense of self is still what is viewing the world), but from an extra-corporeal perspective (outside/above/beside the physical body).
- Autoscopy: The sense or direct experience of being able to look from this new elevated perspective back down at your own body. To see your body from a third person or dislocated perspective.
- Noetic Quality: Similar to the classic hallmarks of a psychedelic experience, there is the strong internal sense that what is occurring is real and significant.
At this time, there is little research around physical bio-markers of OBEs, as they seem to be highly phenomenological, rather than strictly biological experiences.
This makes sense as OBEs deal with the individual's sense of Self and locus of identity, however this is also a ripe area for continued research and study. Some studies have been done to explore this, and further exploration of these experiences seems warranted, given their significance for those who experience them.
What Causes Out-Of-Body Experiences?
There are a number of factors that can lead to OBEs. They are not strictly within the domain of the psychedelic experience, and can be induced through a number of other techniques that alter consciousness.
It is important to note that OBEs are not something that are consciously willed by the individual. A defining trait of OBEs is that they are largely involuntary, something that happens to the individual rather than something the individual plans for and then executes.
There are alternative techniques (such as astral projection or shamanic visualization journeying) that can bring about this disembodied identity, however they are not what we are discussing when looking at OBEs.
Some experiences that can bring about OBEs include:
- Acute Stress: Highly acute and severe stressors (car accidents, childbirth, etc.) have been reported to bring about OBEs. These are not reliable mechanisms to induce OBEs, and individual experiences may vary significantly.
- Medical Conditions: Some medical conditions, such as epilepsy, dissociative disorders, and brain injuries have also been reported to include OBEs or similar phenomena. These are not reliable mechanisms, but these experiences can happen or be brought about by individual medical conditions.
- Psychedelic/Dissociative Compounds: OBEs are never guaranteed in any psychedelic experience. Psychedelic and dissociative compounds, such as ketamine, LSD, psilocybin, DMT, ayahuasca, and others are all able to induce OBEs and are often associated with high-dose or phenomenologically-intense experiences from individuals.
- Near-Death Experiences (NDE’s): OBEs have a strong history in surfacing during near-death experiences, where they are often most notable. There are many reports of individuals feeling like they had left their body, moving through tunnels of light, or similar experiences. These experiences are reported during major car accidents, or during cardiac arrest before resuscitation.
- Hypnosis/Trance: Using techniques such as hypnosis or trance-states through rhythmic drumming can bring about OBEs or similarly adjacent experiences. The locus of identity travels, or is experienced as somewhere outside of the physical body.
- Breathwork/Yogic Techniques: Similarly to the hypnotic and trance states, there are breathwork practices like holotropic breathing or some pranayama techniques in yoga that can induce OBEs or similar identity-altering experiences.
- Sensory Deprivation: Sensory deprivation, such as the use of flotation tanks, or dark meditation retreats, also have the potential to induce or trigger out-of-body experiences.
There are no reliable triggers to induce out-of-body experiences, though some techniques have been reported to, and continue, to bring about OBE in some percentage of those who undergo the experiences.
As OBEs are phenomenologically similar to dissociative experiences in some ways, ketamine or other dissociative experiences can get individuals close to, if not fully within, an out-of-body experience.
What to Do If You Have an Out-Of-Body Experience
These suggestions are particularly relevant if someone has just had an OBE for the first time, or experienced quite a significant OBE.
If you are still in your experience, using whatever method and technique brought about this state, it’s important to remember to remain calm, to know that you are safe, to trust in the experience and the wisdom and healing that it can provide.
OBEs can be very significant for individuals, particularly if one has never experienced a shift in identity-center before. They can be highly alarming, such as feeling the individual has died or something wrong has occurred. There may be fear that you will never return back to normal, or that something with the experience has gone wrong.
Above all, remind yourself that you are safe, that you can trust in the experience. This opens up the opportunity to become curious, to explore this newfound psychological state you find yourself in. This shift from fear, to curiosity, to wonder is a powerful mechanism all individuals have access to, and can be a driver of very significant experiences.
If you are coming off of an experience, and returning to this world, simply take things slowly. You’re returning to your sense of self and to your body. You can still be a bit loose, fuzzy, groggy, or similar after an experience like this. There may be a great deal of excitement and positive energy, or there may be a lot of confusion, hesitation, or doubt within you. All of these feelings are okay, and you can honor fully whatever emotional state is present after this.
It’s important not to make any major decisions after experiences like this, a good rule of thumb is simply to “sleep on it” for a day or two. Let the experience settle in, and to allow your system to calm down. Journaling, or other integration work like meditation or yoga can assist with this process.
If this was a significant experience for you, why was it so significant? What did it show you? What did you learn? What did you experience? Reflecting on this will help things settle in and help provide a firm foundation for the rest of your integration process.
How to Process/Integrate an Out-Of-Body Experience
Processing and integrating an out-of-body experience isn’t always a straightforward process. For some individuals, these can be highly confronting and invite major questions around the nature of reality, the truth of individual/collective consciousness, and similar themes surrounding metaphysics and ontology —the nature of being. For others, there may be significant themes surrounding the personal relationship to death, to spirituality, or to the rest of their life coming up.
If anything like this is occurring for you, it's helpful to honor this process in yourself, to show up as best you can for it, and to really explore with open-minded curiosity what this experience was trying to show you, what it wants to teach you, and how you can utilize it on your path to healing and wholeness.
Here are some ideas on how to integrate and process an OBE.
Journaling is a powerful integration technique, as mentioned above. Continuing to reflect on this, to create the space to put into language what you experienced and what that means for you, is powerful and will help provide clarity and comfort throughout the process.
Consult other teachings
Though an out-of-body experience may have been new for you, these experiences have been the focus and excitement of many cultures and teachings for thousands of years. It can be helpful to look at other teachings and ideas surrounding OBEs to help process and make sense of your own experience.
There are teachings across the various major world religions, Native and mystic traditions, and the psychedelic/psychonautic communities. Knowing you are not alone in your experience, and hearing the stories of others, can help you be more comfortable with your own.
Discuss your experience
You always have support throughout this process. Joining a community to discuss this, working with your care team, your Guide, or joining integration groups can all help. This was an individual experience, but you can find refuge and support in a community of individuals who are there to help you.
There isn’t a deadline on your healing. There’s no test at the end of processing experiences like OBEs. Going slowly, not rushing to conclusions, not forcing yourself into quick answers is very helpful throughout this process.
Giving yourself mental and conceptual space to explore what this experience means for you can allow you to come to deeper and deeper understandings of yourself, and your role in this world.
Ground into your body
Significant OBEs have the potential to be slightly destabilizing. It can be hard to return to work on Monday while you’re questioning the nature of Self. This is real and possible.
Whenever you are getting lost in mental conceptualizations and rationalizations of the experience, ground back into your body. Take a walk in nature, do a yoga or meditation practice, come back to the direct experience of you and your body in the world. Get some sunlight, breathe fresh air, do a project with your hands. These practices can help manage any overwhelm that may arise, and give you the breathing room to continue your integration process.
Out-of-body experiences are unique to each individual. They can be extremely beautiful, life-altering, or existentially challenging. As always, just because you are embarking on an experience that has the potential to induce OBEs, does not mean you will experience one.
What comes up in these experiences and throughout your path in life comes up for your own healing and personal development. If you have an OBE, there’s a reason it came up for you at that time. Taking the time to process and explore this, and working with your practices and community support to unpack and integrate it, can be very powerful catalysts for growth and development.
As always, after any significant experience, we must return to the world, and to ourselves, our relationships, and our role in the web of humanity. Hopefully, after these experiences, we come back more whole, more healed, with more love to give.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. If you are in a life-threatening situation, call the National Suicide Prevention Line at +1 (800) 273-8255, call 911, or go to the nearest emergency room.
Ketamine is not FDA-approved for the treatment of depression or anxiety. Learn more about off-label uses here.
Side effects of ketamine treatment may include: altered sense of time, anxiety, blurred vision, diminished ability to see/hear/feel, dry mouth, elevated blood pressure or heart rate, elevated intraocular or intracranial pressure, excitability, loss of appetite, mental confusion, nausea/vomiting, nystagmus (rapid eye movements), restlessness, slurred speech, synesthesia (a mingling of the senses).
Do not proceed with ketamine treatment if any of the following apply to you:
- Allergic to ketamine
- Symptoms of psychosis or mania
- Uncontrolled high blood pressure
- CHF or other serious heart problem
- Severe breathing problem
- History of elevated intraocular or intracranial pressure
- History of hyperthyroidism
- Other serious medical illness
- Pregnant, nursing, or trying to become pregnant
Ketamine has been reported to produce issues including, but not limited to, those listed below. However, lasting adverse side-effects are rare when medical protocols are carefully followed.
While ketamine has not been shown to be physically addictive, it has been shown to cause moderate psychological dependency in some recreational users.
- In rare cases, frequent, heavy users have reported increased frequency of urination, urinary incontinence, pain urinating, passing blood in the urine, or reduced bladder size
- Ketamine may worsen problems in people with schizophrenia, severe personality disorders, or other serious mental disorders.
- Users with a personal or family history of psychosis should be cautious using any psychoactive substance, including ketamine, and discuss potential risks with your MindBloom® clinician before proceeding with treatment.
- The dissociative effects of ketamine may increase patient vulnerability and the risk of accidents.
To promote positive outcomes and ensure safety, follow these ketamine treatment guidelines:
- Do not operate a vehicle (e.g., car, motorcycle, bicycle) or heavy machinery following treatment until you’ve had a full night of sleep
- Refrain from taking benzodiazepines or stimulants for 24 hours prior to treatment
- Continue to take antihypertensive medication as prescribed
- Avoid hangovers or alcohol intake
- Refrain from consuming solid foods within 3 hours prior to treatment and liquids within 1 hour prior to treatment
- Ketamine treatment should never be conducted without a monitor present to ensure your safety