One very strange phenomenon that has become more popular and pervasive in the world of the paranormal is what has come to be called the Mandela Effect. It deals with the preponderance of people who have very vivid memories of things being differently than they are, of recalling people, events, and places differently than the way they are represented in actual reality, a sort of a mass misremembering of the same facts or details by a large number of people. This can apply to popular culture such as movies, or extend to historical events and beyond, and it has even popped up in the form of people remembering the actual geography of the world differently than what it is.

The theory itself has its origins in 2010 with a paranormal researcher named Fiona Broome, when she found that a fact she clearly remembered seeing on the news, that Nelson Mandela had died in prison in the 1980s, was actually wrong and that he in fact was still alive at the time, indeed living until 2013, when he died from a respiratory illness at his home. This perplexed her, as she so vividly and clearly remembered his death in the 80s, and when she voiced this puzzlement online there was a deluge of others who seemed to share this memory of the same thing, claiming that they clearly recalled seeing it on the news, could envision the reports, and even that they had been taught about it at school. The name eventually stuck as a new phenomenon that became a persistent feature of the lexicon of the paranormal, and the term "Mandela Effect" stuck, encompassing all manner of feature of our reality that for whatever reasons a massive number of people remember completely wrong, perhaps suggesting the possibility of alternate parallel dimensions beyond our comprehension.

A very common facet of the Mandela Effect with regards to geography is the surprisingly large number of people who distinctly and clearly remember whole countries being different shapes, sizes, or in different positions than they were before. The most dramatic of these are those places that seem to have completely changed location. A very famous example of this is the island nation of New Zealand. Without looking at a map, where do you picture it being? Does it lie to the northeast of Australia or the southeast? Is it to the east of the continent or the west?

The correct answer is that New Zealand is located to the far southeast of Australia, approximately 1,200 miles from the mainland, but for many this might be quite a jolt. It appears that there is a large and very vocal population of people, in rare cases even those who actually live in New Zealand, who insist that this is wrong according to their memory. Interestingly, there seem to be different camps of those who remember the location differently. For some it is supposed to be much farther south than it is, for others they learned it was to the northeast rather than the southeast, and usually remembered as much closer to the Australia mainland than actually is, and for others still it is supposed to lie completely on the other side of the Australian continent to the west rather than the east. One Reddit commenter says of this all:

I remember it west of Australia. Sixteen years ago I bought a globe. I was actually thinking about Australia and New Zealand and how I didn't know much about either, so I thought I should really know where they are. So I looked at my globe and saw it as a big landmass west of Australia. I thought 'this is a good way to remember it, it seems exotic to me because it is further away from the United States, further west.

This seems to be no minor quibble or random mistake for some of these people, as there are plenty of people who seem to be genuinely shocked and horrified to learn the real location. As another Reddit commenter says, it was practically life-changing for him to be confronted with this anomalous geographical discrepancy:

When this all came to my attention a couple days ago I go over to my sister's room and look for this globe we've had for years. First place I look is for New Zealand northeast area of Australia... lo and behold, New Zealand is now southeast of Australia in the middle of nowhere. At that point it felt like I had been kicked in the stomach. I won the geography award in grade school and have a plaque that my parents still have on display, and I'm willing to scan it to prove it. Geography is something I've always had a keen awareness of.

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One commonly held memory of where people think New Zealand is

It is not only New Zealand either, and there are other island countries that people adamantly insist were once in different locations. A popular one is the country of Sri Lanka. Again, where do you remember it as being? If you said it is obviously directly to the south of India, then you are wrong. Sri Lanka actually lies to the southeast of India, a fact that seems to really bother a lot of people who insist that it should be directly to the south of the tip of mainland India. One commenter on the site The Mandela Effect has said of this:

I have interviewed 5 persons regarding the location of Sri Lanka(ceylon)and asked them to draw a map, all of them drew it as they remembered and it was far far downwards, further I asked them to draw a horizontal line touching the tip of India’s extremity, the line went over the sea, all clear… and all were cynics.


Almost everybody remembers the country located further south beyond the tip of India. Being Indian I have the advantage of getting genuine feed back, and the peculiarity of Sri Lanka is that India is the only neighbor and people in India are aware of this sensivity and are keen enough to notice the location.

Other island nations are also constantly remembered as being in the wrong place as well. Cuba is often remembered as having been closer to Florida than Mexico, but it is actually closer to the latter. It is 214 km from Mexico and 228 km from Florida. Japan is also hotly debated, with a great many people convinced that it used to be farther south, nearer to China, when it actually sits much farther north than is recalled, next to Russia. Greenland is also remembered as in the wrong place, and many are quite shocked to learn that it not only is only 14 miles from Canada, but that it is actually much larger than recalled, a full 836,000 Sq. miles in area, about 21 times the size of Iceland. Speaking of different sizes and shapes, a large number of people also remember Russia as looking much different than it does, claiming that it looks decidedly wrong when looking at it now, to the point that it is baffling for some.

To anyone who correctly remembers the location, shapes, and sizes of these places all of this talk of how they are remembered differently must seem absurd, but it’s interesting how persistent and uniform many of these false memories are, how badly they jar and unsettle those faced with cold, hard reality, and they are enough that there are whole forums devoted to heatedly discussing these issues. Just about as bizarre as remembering countries in different places are those locations that seem to have appeared from nowhere or to have conversely disappeared off the face of the Earth.

By far the weirdest and most intensely discussed of these among Mandela Effect theorists nowadays is a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean called Svalbard, which is an Unincorporated area of Norway. It is a large land, 23,561 sq. miles in dimension, with a rich history spanning back to the 12th century and its own culture, traditions, and people. The problem is that for a lot of people it should not be there, and looks decidedly out of place on maps, just sitting out there where nothing existed before. How could so many people misremember this place as not existing? It might seem rather ridiculous if you remember correctly, but there is a very vocal contingent of people who are certain that Svalbard never existed until very recently for them.

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Another place that quite a few people don’t remember existing before is the Canadian territory of Nunavut, which is the largest territory of Canada and is larger than Texas, California and France combined. Some people find this baffling, as they have never heard of it, and although it is a relatively new territory, being split from the Northwest Territories in 1999, it still is rather jarring for a surprising number of people. Perhaps even stranger is a country that was in existence from the Middle Ages all the way up until the 1800s, called Great Tartary. It was considered a major power at the time, and was vast in area, being even larger than Russia, positioned in the northern part of Asia and bounded by Siberia on the north and west. Although it is no longer a country, for such a large country with such an illustrious history it seems odd that so few people have ever heard of it, with many insisting that it never existed before.

Adding to all of the anomalies we have looked at so far are persistent and pervasive miscellaneous geographical conundrums that a lot of people remember wrong in the same way. A common one is that there is the vast number of people who swear that they distinctly learned that the United States has 51 states, or even 52, rather than the correct 50, and insist that in their remembered history Puerto Rico is a state. This might seem ludicrous to some, but they are adamant that their memory on this is very clear. Another is the location of Fort Knox, the military base famous for its gold reserves, which is located in the state of Kentucky, but which many very clearly remember as being in Tennessee. There are even those who claim to have been stationed there or know people who were, who insist that they were in Tennessee, not Kentucky. Weird.

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Fort Knox

Again, for those who remember this all correctly, this must all seem pretty wild. It must seem to obviously be just the result of ignorance or stupidity mixed with the fact that most people don’t look at maps on a regular basis and their mind just sort of fills in the blanks of what they don’t know. Yet, a lot of the people who claim these discrepancies between what they remember and reality are well-educated, normal people, and these mistakes are so clearly remembered wrongly in a similar way across the board that it is at the very least an interesting psychological phenomenon, and perhaps something far stranger. People are so convinced that the world once looked differently that there are even whole maps available online of how the world should look to them versus how it actually appears. Why do these people remember these geographical details so wrongly and to such a degree that it is very often mentally troubling for them when confronted with the truth? It largely depends on who you ask.

For proponents of the Mandela Effect, this is all indicative of some sort of mysterious mass shift between two different realities. This relies on a concept known as the “multiverse,” which proposes that there are infinite parallel and offshoot universes coexisting with ours, with infinite permutations and infinite versions of you inhabiting many of them. In some of these alternate dimensions the difference could be very slight, such as you wearing a red t-shirt today instead of a blue one. In another, things could be more dramatic, such as having a different president, another one in which history is different, or even one in which the dinosaurs never went extinct.

In relation to the Mandela Effect, the idea is at some point a number of people has transferred over to a different timeline in a parallel dimension, while retaining the memories of how things were in their own reality. These two realities might be nearly identical, with the only differences being subtle yet jarring, such as in this case the location or size of a country or place. Making it even more bizarre is that this may have involved a straight swap with the you from this new reality and the other one, meaning that while one version of you wonders where, say, Svalbard came from, the other you from this reality is in the one you came from, wondering where in the world Svalbard went. For proponents of this cause of the Mandela Effect, it is all caused by the fact that the details and timelines of the two parallel universe don’t line up exactly, which can drive these people nuts and lodge into their psyche like splinters in the mind. How this shift happened or how many people were involved is anyone’s guess, and the ones who remember correctly are the ones who never left, and are safely in their home reality.

It’s all a very interesting, sci-fi sounding concept that is great as a thought experiment, but unfortunately there is ultimately no evidence at all that this has actually happened to any degree other than the insistence of those who are absolutely sure that reality does not match what they so clearly and potently remember. This forces us to look at more mundane possible explanations, and this mainly comes down to pointing out just how unreliable and malleable memories can be. Indeed, it has been show that memories can be influenced or even created with enough suggestion and belief, and false memories are surprisingly common. Although we still don’t fully understand how memories work or how our brain processes them, it has been found that memories can be subject to changes and evolve or be warped over time, and this can be influenced by how confident you are in that memory, even if it’s wrong, and what those around you think. As the site New Zealand says:

It seems that the act of remembering something over and over again builds your confidence in that memory - even if you are more and more wrong every time. Which, really, explains the Mandela Effect well. You may stumble upon the community with a few things misremembered, a few details out of place, then by virtue of reading about hundreds of others who agree with you, set that wrong memory in stone. Suddenly you aren't thinking "oh I thought that was there," you're thinking "I definitely know that it was in a different place". Your ideology is rewarded and reinforced, as it is in any community.

Is that what is going on here? Are so many people just conjuring up these memories in their heads? Is this the result of some sort of mental short circuit or psychological trick, or is there something else at work to it all? Has the world changed from one universe and timeline to another for some people? There are numerous other examples of the Mandela Effect and geography, and I have only presented some of the odder and more widely discussed, but they all seem perplexing and widespread enough to give food for thought, regardless of whether one remembers it the "right way" or not. Considering there is not much we are able to do to prove the existence of other realities, or that people have traveled unwittingly between them, it is likely that the debate will continue, with those who think it is all an illusion on one side and those individuals for whom the world looks different than their memory on the other.

Brent Swancer

Brent Swancer is an author and crypto expert living in Japan. Biology, nature, and cryptozoology still remain Brent Swancer’s first intellectual loves. He's written articles for MU and Daily Grail and has been a guest on Coast to Coast AM and Binnal of America.

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