General Death Experience FAQs
What is a Near-Death Experience (NDE)?
Near death experiences can happen to anyone at any age when an individual has a brush with death, almost dies, or is pronounced clinically death.
No two NDEs are identical, but when numerous NDE reports are considered together, a pattern becomes evident. Any single experience is likely to include one or more of these aspects of the overall pattern:
- Feeling that the “self ” has left the body and is hovering overhead. The person may later be able to describe who was where and what happened, sometimes in detail.
- Moving through a dark space or tunnel.
- Experiencing intensely powerful emotions, ranging from bliss to extreme distress.
- Encountering a light. It is usually described as golden or white, and as being magnetic and loving; rarely, it is perceived as a reflection of the fires of hell.
- Receiving some variant of the message “It is not yet your time.”
- Meeting others: may be deceased loved ones, recognized from life or not; sacred beings; unidentified entities and/or “beings of light”; sometimes symbols from one’s own or other religious traditions.
- A life review, seeing and re-experiencing major and trivial events of one’s life, sometimes from the perspective of the other people involved, and coming to some conclusion about the adequacy of that life and what changes are needed.
- Having a sense of understanding everything, of knowing how the universe works.
- Reaching a boundary—a cliff, fence, water—some kind of barrier that may not be crossed if one is to return to life.
- In some cases, entering a city or library.
- Rarely, receiving previously unknown information about one’s life—i.e., adoption or hidden parentage, deceased siblings, glimpses into future events.
- Decision to return may be voluntary or involuntary. If voluntary, usually associated with unfinished service to loved ones.
- Returning to the body. Most NDEs are pleasurable, but others are deeply distressing. In either case, virtually all NDErs sooner or later come to see the experience as beneficial.
How many people have had an NDE?
Surveys taken in the US1, Australia2 and Germany3 suggest that 4 to 15 % of the population have had NDEs.
Every day in the U.S., 774 NDEs occur, according to the Near-Death Experience Research Foundation (NDERF).4
Of more than 800 near-death experiencers (NDErs) reporting to IANDS, 25% believed they were clinically dead at the time of their NDE.5
A large study conducted in the Netherlands showed that 18% of people who suffered a cardiac arrest and were clinically dead had later reported an NDE.6
- Gallup, G., and Proctor,W. (1982). Adventures in Immortality: A Look Beyond the Threshold of Death. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
- Perera, M. et.al. (2005). Prevalence of Near-Death Experiences in Australia. Journal of Near-Death Studies, 24, 109.
- Knoblauch, H. et.al. (2001). Different Kinds of Near-Death Experience: A Report on a Survey of Near-Death Experiences in Germany. Journal of Near-Death Studies, 20, 15-29.
- Migliore. V. (2007).
- van Lommel, P, et.al. (2001). Near-death Experience in Survivors of Cardiac Arrest: A Prospective Study in the Netherlands. Lancet 2001; 358: 2039-45.
What causes a near-death experience?
No one can say for certain what causes a near-death experience. Theories have been put forward to explain the NDE and its associated physical mechanisms, such as loss of blood flow, loss of oxygen, chemical surges in the body, or even a type of sleep, but none of these theories singly or together fits all cases.
NDE researchers have discovered a few conditions that are present in some degree in nearly every case and may have some bearing on who is likely to undergo a near-death experience:
- being at a critical juncture in one’s life
- when decisions have to be made during times of deep frustration or dissatisfaction
- pushing limits – at work, at play, at everything
- when demanding strict rules limit one’s beliefs and activities
- during times when happiness is really a façade.
- when overly satisfied or complacent
- when in strong denial
- without existence of meaningful goals
P.M.H. Atwater has done a lot of research on causes of NDEs. You can learn more about all of her NDE findings and research in the following two books:
Are NDEs just dreams or hallucinations?
No physical condition – like a dream or hallucination – has been able to explain the power and the complexity of near-death states. Often NDErs say their experience caused some kind of personality transformation. Neither dreams nor hallucinations transform the personality.
Many NDErs say their NDEs were more real than normal reality let alone more real than a dream.
People who have experienced both an NDE and hallucination say the two experiences are quite different. Again, an NDE usually is perceived to have been “hyperreal” whereas an hallucination is known to be “unreal”.
Are NDEs proof that there’s life after death?
While life after death is a very popular interpretation, there is no “proof ” that this is a fact. Since no means exist to validate this interpretation, it remains a speculation. A more cautious explanation is that NDEs suggest that some aspect of human consciousness may continue after physical death.
Are the people who have NDEs very religious?
People who report NDEs are no better or worse—and no more or less religious—than people in any crosssection of the general population. NDErs come from many religious backgrounds and from the ranks of agnostics and even atheists. Similarly, NDEs occur in both adults and children. The latter topic is addressed in more detail in the IANDS brochure, “Children’s Near-Death Experiences.”
How do people react when they come back?
A person who has just had a near-death experience probably has very mixed feelings. One person may express anger or grief at being resuscitated; another may express relief. Other typical reactions:
- fear that the NDE signified some kind of mental disorder;
- disorientation because reality has shifted;
- euphoria, feeling special or “chosen”;
- withdrawal to ponder the experience.
Does an NDE really change a person’s life?
Almost every near-death experiencer reports changes after the experience. The changes may be numerous. They may occur at the physical, psychological, and/or spiritual levels. They may be very difficult or impossible for the NDEr to describe or explain. The changes reflect a fundamental shift in the NDEr’s ideas of what life is all about. For more information about changes spawned by NDEs, see the IANDS brochure, “Aftereffects of Near-Death States.”
I had one of these experiences, but no one told me I was in danger. Was my doctor lying to me?
Probably not. Dr. Raymond Moody, in his 1975 book Life After Life, created the term “near-death experiences” to describe the clinical death experiences of people he had interviewed. However, although being close to death is a fairly reliable “trigger,” identical experiences happen under very different circumstances, even to people who are in no way close to physical death. The best known experiences are those of saints and religious mystics. Deep prayer and meditation can produce events like NDEs, as can other altered states of consciousness, without the person being near physical death.
When my mother was dying, we thought she was hallucinating, but what she described sounds like an NDE. Could this be true?
People who are dying frequently describe seeing a wonderful light or a landscape they want to enter. They may talk with people who are invisible to everyone else, or they may look radiant and at peace. Such “deathbed visions” may be related to NDEs. For more information about these kinds of experiences, see the IANDS brochure “Near-Death Experiences and Nearing-Death Awareness in the Terminally Ill.”
If You Have Had an NDE
You are not alone, and you have not lost your mind. An NDE is an extraordinary experience that happens to normal people.
You may want to tell the world about your NDE, or you may want to think about it, possibly for a long time, before trying to say anything. You will probably feel frustrated trying to find words to describe it, and fearful that no one else will understand. You may find the IANDS brochure “Caring for the Near-Death Experiencer: Considerations for Experiencers ” to be helpful in the aftermath of your NDE or similar experience.
If Someone You Know Has Had an NDE
It is as if the other person has returned from a country you have never visited and cannot even imagine. The best thing you can do is listen. Simply being with the person and letting him/her talk will be more helpful than you may think; you are not expected to have answers or opinions. There are many interpretations of NDEs, and only the individual can decide the meaning of this particular experience.
An NDE is not an indication of mental disorder, but its effects are often powerful. Some people adjust easily afterwards, while others feel challenged to integrate the experience into their subsequent lives. In the latter case, professional help may be needed for the person to get back on track. For a more in-depth discussion of how to be helpful to someone who has had an NDE or similar experience, consult the IANDS brochure “Caring for the Near-Death Experiencer: Considerations for Caregivers.”
Where Can I Get More Information?
- Come to a Sacramento NDE Meeting where you’ll be able to network with NDErs, listen to speakers, and gain access to more NDE resources.
- Visit iands.org and nderf.me – two great websites devoted to sharing NDE information.
- Contact us! We can help you find the information or support you’re looking for.