Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Aftereffects of the Near Death Experience

Adapting to an “exceptional experience.”

Chris B/Unsplash
Source: Chris B/Unsplash

One of the biggest mysteries in life is what happens after death. Humans have been trying to find the answer since man realized that death meant someone was gone forever.

But where do we go—or do we go anywhere? Over the years, hundreds of books have been written by scientists, spiritual leaders, and philosophers, each espousing their own views about whether or not there is an afterlife.

Since 1975, and the publication of Raymond Moody’s book Life After Life, much of the conversation has centered on the Near Death Experience (NDE). Given the number of documented accounts from all over the world, it is hard to dismiss the reality of the experience. But is it a function of a dying brain or a spiritual experience proving there is an afterlife?

What is an NDE? An NDE occurs when a person is close to death or pronounced dead. However, some people have also had these experiences and have not been close to death. Most commonly, there is an initial out of body experience (OBE) in which the person perceives themselves floating above their body. Next, the individual often experiences going through a dark tunnel at the end of which is a bright divine light. There is a reunion with loved ones who have died before and a return to the body.

In Michael Shermer’s new book, Heavens on Earth, he presents all the reasons why the NDE is not a spiritual experience but hallucinations from the dying brain. He does, however, write: “A scientific understanding of NDEs… is not meant to take away from the power of the experience as seemingly real, as emotionally salient, or as transforming and life-changing.”[1]

The event is so profound that it often does alter the experiencer’s life. Perhaps the most common after-effect of an NDE is the loss of the fear of death and a strengthened belief in the afterlife. There is typically a new awareness of meaning and purpose in experiencers' lives. A new sense of self with increased self-esteem is reported.

Experiencers also show a marked change in their attitude, not only toward their own life but toward the lives of others as well. They tend to be more open, caring, and loving. However, they may also reexamine their existing relationships, ending some that are now not compatible with their new beliefs and attitudes. The experiencer and family members are often confused by this “new person” and adjustment problems do arise. Families can have a difficult time adjusting to the new normal. Divorce is fairly common in couples where one partner has experienced an NDE.[2]

Another common side effect is that experiences can become highly intuitive and often report an increase in perceived psychic experiences including telepathy (knowing what someone is thinking and feeling) and precognition (knowing when something is going to happen before it does.). Jeff Long, M.D., founder of the NDERF (Near Death Experience Research Foundation) website states, “Some NDE researchers believe that significant physiological changes are common after NDEs. I am not observing that in my research, and neither are most other researchers. The only well-conducted study that was suggestive of a physiological aftereffect following NDE involved electrical sensitivity. This was published in the Journal of Near-Death Studies several years ago. The article stated that electrical sensitivity following NDEs was not established, only that their evidence was suggestive. There has been very little good research in the possible physiological aftereffects of NDEs.” (Personal communication.)

The aftereffects of an NDE are many and complex. They impact every aspect of the experiencer’s functioning. It often takes years for individuals to incorporate these changes. One of the biggest impediments to their recovery is their fear of telling anyone about the experience. They have trouble making sense of it themselves and are reluctant to tell others about it. They are afraid people will think they are “crazy” and they will not be believed. They have had this profound experience and have no one to talk to about it.

This can easily be changed by asking anyone who has been close to death, on awakening, if they had any unusual or strange experiences while they were unconscious. If they did and want to talk about it, it is important that one listens to what is said and respond in a nonjudgmental manner. Let them talk and ask them what the experience meant to them. According to Dr. Long, 95.6 percent of experiencers believe that what happened to them was definitely real. Indeed, they will often describe it as “realer than real.”

Working with a therapist can help those who have had an NDE integrate these experiences into their day-to-day life. There are many books written by those who have had this experience that they can read. Referrals to groups for experiencers are helpful to decrease their feelings of isolation from others. Online groups are also available.

More information on resources in your area can be obtained by contacting (International Association of Near Death Studies) as well as[3][4] Working individually or in a group with this population can also benefit the therapist, as there are many reports that people are often changed simply by listening to someone talk about the experience.


[1] Shermer, M. (2018). Heavens on Earth: The Scientific Search for the Afterlife, Immortality, and Utopia. New York: Henry Holt and Company.

[2] Noyes,Jr. R., Fenwick,P, Holden,J. & Christian,S.(2009). Aftereffects of Pleasurable Western Adult Near-Death Experiences. In Holden, Janice Miner, EdD, Greyson, Bruce, MD. and James, Debbie, RN/MSN. (Eds.) 2009, The Handbook of Near-Death Experiences: Thirty Years of Investigation. California: Praeger Publishers.



More from Marilyn A. Mendoza Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today
More from Marilyn A. Mendoza Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today