Swiss scientists think they have pinpointed the area of the brain where out-of-body experiences are triggered.
When they used electrodes to stimulate the brain of a female epilepsy patient during treatment, she began describing feeling as though she had left her body and was floating above it.
"I see myself lying in bed, from above," the 43-year-old patient told Olaf Blanke and his colleagues at the University Hospitals of Geneva and Lausanne.
Blanke and his team produced the phenomenon by stimulating an area in the right cortex of the brain called the angular gyrus that is involved in spatial cognition.
How they did it was reported in the science journal Nature on Wednesday.
"It suggests that this experience is related to a specific part of the brain," said Blanke.
"It seems to be that this area is important for brain processes that could be related to out-of-body experience."
Near death experience
Scientists suspect that about ten per cent of people brought back from the brink of death also experience something similar, but it has been difficult to prove it actually occurs.
The phenomenon has also been reported by some migraine, epilepsy and stroke patients.
The Swiss researchers produced the sensation, which lasted for about two seconds, three times in the patient.
She reported feelings of lightness and floating about two metres above the bed, close to the ceiling.
When Blanke and his team asked the women to look at a part of her body from the heightened position, her legs for example, she reported seeing her legs "becoming shorter".
"She saw this. It was very real. She had the feeling she punched herself in the head if she bent the arm a bit," said Blanke.
The scientists suspect that the angular gyrus matches up visual information, how the body is seen, and touch and balance sensations that create the mind's representation of the body.
They believe an out-of-body experience may occur when the two do not link up.
Blanke does not know why the phenomenon occurs in people who have been near death but he said it could be due to a lack of oxygen or a disconnection or malfunction of certain brain regions.
He hopes his work will stimulate more collaboration between neurologists and scientists who have been involved in the phenomenological approach, to better understand out-of-body experiences.
swissinfo with agencies
In compliance with the JTI standards