Holding a prominent place within various science fiction tales is the concept of what are called “time loops,” wherein a person or persons are trapped within a cycle of repeating events, with time itself bent around, looping about to replay the same sequence of occurrences over and over again. The notion was perhaps most famously portrayed in the film Groundhog Day, in which actor Bill Murray’s character finds himself waking up to relive the same day again and again, but the time loop has been featured in countless other movies and stories. Yet what if these temporal oddities are not confined to merely within the screen and pages of books or magazines? Is it possible that someone can really be trapped within an actual time loop? According to some reports, not only is it possible, but it has already happened, opening up possible questions about time and our reality that we have yet to understand.
There are quite a few personal accounts of experiencing some sort of time loop or time warp floating around, and it is often hard to know what to make of them. Typically, they simply involve the witness experiencing a very intense and repeated sense of déjà vu of sorts, reliving certain sections of time that can range from a few minutes to much longer. Time can seem as if it is standing still, or that the world around them has slowed down or even stopped. There can sometimes be other phenomena associated with these reports as well, such as a sense of lost time or physical problems as well, and in every case it leaves the witness disoriented, confused, and questioning their own reality.
One very strange account comes from Reddit, and is told by a witness who says that at the time he had been with his wife and that they had been walking home from a friend’s house just two blocks away from where they live in an unspecified area of the United States. The witness describes their route as being through a large park that stretches through a row of Dutch, brownstone townhouses. It was along this row of houses on the fringe of this serene park that the wife would first notice something odd. The witness explains:
At one point she turns to me and says, “everything keeps resetting.” I laugh and assume she is referring to the fact that the apartments on our left all look very similar, so I make a joke that, “this must be what hell is like, bladders about to burst but no matter how fast you walk you’ll never reach the bathroom!” She laughs in a way that I can tell she is humoring me, but the look on her face is concerned. I focus in a little more on our surroundings and that’s when I notice that she wasn’t kidding; no matter how far we walked we didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. Even describing this is difficult because I’m still not entirely sure what was happening - it felt like we were lagging in a video game.
I can remember everything exactly as it was: trash piled around a tree to the right, an orange traffic cone next to a set of white and brown stairs, a white car parked off to the right side. At first I didn’t believe it and I assumed that it was indeed some trick of the eye illusion created by the similarity of buildings on the left. I continued to make light of the situation, making jokes about how we were stuck in this moment forever; that all of our memories weren’t real and that the future would never come. This is actually a joke I make often, but even saying it out loud I started to feel like maybe it was the truth. My wife was trying to stay light hearted as well, but I could tell she was freaked out.
The witness says that he had then tried an experiment to see what would happen if they stopped walking, but this just caused some disorientation and the sensation that he could not control his legs, as well as the feeling as if time had stopped and everything around them was in slow motion, as if underwater. They continued walking and it was only after another half an hour of walking and getting nowhere, when they should have reached their home long before, that things began to go back to normal and they started to “break out of the cycle,” of which the witness says:
Even then it still felt like we would walk past three houses and then jump back one. I remember we could finally see our building and, despite having increased to jog, it still took another five or so minutes to reach the stairs. The entire experience felt so surreal and no matter how many times I run through it in my head it only makes less sense. The walk should have only taken five minutes max, and less even because of how quickly we were moving. I’ve read about time discrepancies before, but I’ve always been skeptical. Now I don’t know what to believe. I didn’t leave the house at all yesterday, but today I went back to where the loop started once again and discovered that we had only been a 30 second walk from home the entire time. It was there but just out of reach! So strange.
In a similarly bizarre account from the site Lipstick Mystic, the witness says she was driving about her hometown of Easton, Pennsylvania, when they somehow seemed to get caught up in a brief time loop where everything repeated right before their startled eyes. The witness says of this:
I had an amazing experience about two years ago in Easton, Pennsylvania. My friend and I had stopped at a traffic light next to a bike store while taking a road trip, when I saw the strangest thing. A young man came out of the bike shop wearing brightly colored clothing, and got into his car. As we sat at the light, I turned my head to chat with my companion. A moment later, I turned around, and THE EXACT SAME SCENE played itself out. The SAME young man, dressed the same way, came out of the store and got into his car in exactly the same way!
Not enough time had elapsed between these moments for the man in question to have been able to get back out of the car, return to the store, and then come back out of the store. The passage of time between these moments (of me seeing him come out of the store once, then again) was not more than a few seconds.
What is it that causes these “glitches in the matrix,” so to speak, these hiccups of time where events get recycled? It is curious to note that in many of these cases more than one person has experienced them, and in another report from a witness of Reddit we have another account typical of such experiences, in which a whole family got stuck in an apparent time loop. The witness says:
In 2008, my uncle graduated from basic training in South Carolina. My parents, brother, sister, grandpa, grandma, and aunt drive from St Louis to the fort in our SUV. Most of the drive is not memorable, but when we got to Asheville, NC, things changed. My dad exited the highway to get gas sometime after dark, probably around 8/9pm. Then, we got back on the highway. 20 minutes later, we passed the exit we took to get gas. Everyone was confused, but we kept driving. 20 more minutes pass and we pass the exit again. We still haven’t left the highway since getting back on after getting gas, it’s an interstate, so we haven’t made any turns, either. This happened 2 more times, drive for 20 minutes, pass the exit, etc. After the fourth time, we made progress. We still joke about Asheville, and vow to never go back. We even avoided it in 2014 on our way to Myrtle Beach.
In other cases, people can be subjected to recurring time loops over several episodes, where it almost seems like they are perhaps even causing these anomalies or drawing them in. One Reddit user says that his first experience with such looped events occurred when he was sitting in his car at college simply reading a textbook and minding his own business. It was just by chance that it slowly dawned on him that something was a bit off about the scene playing out around him. He says:
I noticed the events taking place after seeing the same city bus drive by twice. It was the same numbered bus and the same single passenger sitting in the back driver's side. After the bus passed the second time I noticed a lady pushing a baby stroller and texting on her phone, walking the opposite way of the bus. I flip through my book and what seemed 5 minutes later, the same sequence of events took place. The bus drove by, the lady pushed her stroller by. This happened 5 or 6 times before I finally pulled out my phone and texted a friend what was going on. I don't know if he was joking or being serious but he replied "YOU'RE IN A TIME LOOP. YOU NEED TO GET OUT" He instructed me to go drive around and come back. I did so, thus ending the loop. I was pretty freaked out at this point.
The very same man’s second odd experience happened some time later, when he woke up in the morning to start a very strange day, saying:
This happened yesterday and was a much stranger coincidence. I woke up at 7:37AM. My alarm was set for 8 so I went back to sleep. I woke back up feeling much more rested only to notice it was still 7:37AM. Whatever, I'll just get up now and go do stuff. Enter 10:37AM at the gym. Why 37? I don't know....I look at the clock while I'm sitting on my bench doing my lifts. I do several sets (approximately 10 minutes) and look at the clock again. It still says 10:37. No way this can be right. Look at my phone and it just now changed to 10:38.
So far, so odd, but there are other stories out there of people who have been stuck in time loops for far longer than several minutes or even hours. In one case the witness claims that he was stuck in a continuous loop of events for a whole week, reliving the same day over and over again. He says:
I got stuck in a time loop for a week where the same exact thing would happen. Basically I would come into school every morning and sit down at the same seat at the same table to eat breakfast with my girlfriend, when I noticed that one day there were crumbs in my seat. This kept happening every morning for 5 days in a row until the weekend came and then the next week on Monday the crumbs weren't there. What strikes this as interesting to me though, is that at our school all of the tables were on wheels and would fold up so that the lunch ladies could move them around easily and sweep and mop. And since they did this very day during 4th block (after the last lunch during 3rd block), there was no other period of time where someone would be eating in between 4th block and the morning the next day. So I became very puzzled as to how the crumbs got there every morning if the lunch ladies cleaned the tables at the end of the day? Even if they didn't wipe the seats off, the crumbs should have fallen off when they folded the tables up.
One very odd and extreme case of this allegedly happened in 2015, when a 23-year-old British man went to doctors with the rather bizarre claim that he was constantly reliving past moments of his life, and that he had been stuck in these time loops for a staggering 8 years. The man claimed that he had regularly been haunted by repeated phantom memories of having done or seen or heard everything he did since 2007, to the point where he was afraid to even watch TV, listen to the radio, or read the news because it was always all something he had seen or heard before. By his own admission this was more than just déjà vu, and he described it as being “trapped in a time loop,” wherein he wasn’t just having a familiarity with something, but was rather vividly reliving the exact same past experiences moment by moment. Dr. Chris Moulin, a cognitive neuropsychologist at the University of Bourgogne said of the strange condition:
This man was striking because he was young, otherwise aware, but completely traumatized by this constant sensation that his mind was playing tricks. There was one instance where he went to get a haircut. As he walked in, he got a feeling of déjà vu. Then he had déjà vu of the déjà vu. He couldn’t think of anything else.
Doctors who examined him could find no apparent health problems or neurological issues, and brain scans showed that everything was completely normal. Psychological evaluations also showed that he had no problems or issues that could be ascertained, which only deepened the mystery because such markedly intense and chronic bouts of déjà vu are usually associated with conditions of the temporal lobe or neurological damage. Although the mystery remains unexplained, and indeed the phenomenon of déjà vu in general is poorly understood and still largely a mystery, doctors theorize that in this case it could all be simply the result of anxiety. A Dr. Christine Wells, of Sheffield Hallam University, wrote a report on the case published in the Journal of Medical Case Reports, and says of this idea:
Rather than simply the unsettling feelings of familiarity which are normally associated with déjà vu, our subject complained that it felt like he was actually retrieving previous experiences from memory, not just finding them familiar. Most cases like this occur as a side effect associated with epileptic seizures or dementia. However, in this instance it appears as though the episodes of déjà vu could be linked to anxiety causing mistimed neuronal firing in the brain, which causes more déjà vu and in turn brings about more anxiety. If proved, this could be the first-ever recorded instance of psychogenic déjà vu, which is déjà vu triggered by anxiety rather than a neurological condition such as dementia or epilepsy.
In the end, no one really knows for sure, and the man stuck in the time loop for 8 years remains a mystery. So what are we to make of such strange accounts and oddities? Just what is going on here? Considering the bizarreness of the phenomenon it is really hard to say. It could be merely a glitch of the brain, some sort of very intense déjà vu, so potent that it convinces a person they are reliving the same moments in time, but this does little to explain those cases in which more than one person is affected. Could this be something stranger still? Are these rifts in time that are somehow opening in the fabric of reality to pull these people in? Is it some sort of glitch in a computer program or simulated reality we are living in? Or is it something so bizarre that we are not even close to comprehending it? No matter where the answers may lie, such cases as we have looked at here certainly invite speculation and rumination on the nature of our universe, our reality, and time itself.