Does your brain play back memories when you die?

In this article we are going to answer the question ‘’Does your brain play back memories when you die?’’ We will show you what happens in the brain before dying and what the last minutes of consciousness are like.

Does your brain play back memories when you die?

Yes, the brain plays back memories when you die. In this process the cerebral cortex is involved, however, it is believed that it is not the brain that reacts to the threat of death, but that it is only a super concentrated version of mental processes that happen every day.

It’s a common scene in Hollywood movies. One of his actors, on the edge of death, in the last seconds of his life, recalls like in a flash the most significant experiences that he had to go through.

People see their lives before his eyes. A succession of events, one after another, until everything suddenly shuts down.

Outside of the movies, in the lives of mortals, many people reported experiencing a similar sensation when they were dying and, by fate, survived. Until today, there was not enough scientific evidence to support the possibility of this extrasensory phenomenon.

What happens to your brain when you die?

One of the questions that scientists ask themselves the most, and surely many people in general, is what happens to our brain in the moments before death. A group of researchers has managed to answer that question: a wave of electrical activity called “extended depression.”

Experts examined brain activity in dying patients and observed a flurry of movement that appears to precede the fatal closure of our most vital organ.

The finding suggests that consciousness may still be present many minutes after the rest of the body has stopped showing signs of life, raising the possibility that the brain’s shutdown process may be reversed for at least five minutes.

One last breath

A team of neurologists from the Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin, one of the largest hospitals in Europe, continuously monitored the electrical signals in the brains of nine people as they died. 

Each of the patients in the German capital and also in the city of Cincinnati (Ohio, USA) had suffered fatal brain injuries and the doctors had orders not to resuscitate them.

The scientists hoped that by implanting electrodes into the brains of their test subjects they would be able to uncover the exact timing and mechanisms of death. They found that even five minutes after a person’s heart stops beating, their neurons could still function.

Furthermore, it was discovered how a wave of “expansive depression” marked the moment when these brain cells shut down, just before an irreversible end.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Jens Dreier, explained that “after circulatory arrest, diffusion of depolarization marks the loss of stored electrochemical energy in neurons and the onset of toxic processes that eventually lead to death.”

Propagation of depolarization

Cells die when blood stops flowing, depriving them of the oxygen they need for fuel to function. When this happens, brain cells draw on energy reserves for a few minutes before they shut down completely – this happens when the mechanisms neurons use to keep ions apart begin to fail.

Breaking down the barriers between these particles releases a massive amount of electrochemical energy in the brain as neurons frantically try to consume fuel. This process, known as depolarization spread or the spread of depression, is characterized by hyperactivity in neurons, followed by sudden silence.

However, it only marks the final countdown to death and can be temporarily reversed, the researchers found.

The subject of debate remains how long exactly. A final ‘wave’ of energy seems to mark the point where neurons last fire, although the research team cautioned that it can still be an unreliable marker for demise.

The end of consciousness

“The chemical changes that lead to death begin with depolarization,” Dr. Jed Hartings of the University of Cincinnati School of Medicine and a member of the research team explained to ‘Newsweek’: “We have never had a method to diagnose brain death and we don’t have a way to be sure when all consciousness is lost. “

Scientists discover what happens to our minds after we die

Researchers at the University of Southampton completed the largest study ever conducted on close encounters with death, and experiences of abandonment and return to the body. The results can have great consequences in the way we view the end of life.

The study

A team of scientists led by Sam Parnia of the State University of New York at Stony Brook examined the cognitive processes of cardiac arrest survivors in a group of 2,060 patients over four years. Almost 40% of the more than 330 survivors surveyed reported some form of “consciousness” during the time they were clinically dead, that is, no vital signs or heartbeat.

One in 5 claims to have experienced a state of deep satisfaction and peace, while a third reported some form of time dilation. 13% felt as if they had physically left their bodies. Almost 46% of patients who suffered cardiac arrest reported having seen their life pass in a couple of seconds.

The same number said that their memories focused on one of these 7 themes: fear, animals and plants, bright light, violence and persecution, deja-vus and family. 2% of the total described having “seen” and “heard” what was happening around them while the doctors revived them.

If memories weren’t fuzzy from anesthesia and brain injury, the team believes more individuals would have reported the same.

“It is clear that these memories deserve further investigation without prejudice,” Parnia said in a press release. He also added that probably “millions” of people have had “clear experiences” in dealing with death, but that the scientific literature simply has not taken such claims seriously. The results of his research were recently published in the journal Resuscitation.

Each person who participated in the experiment said that they ended up with a new perspective on the events they experienced and on the important people in their lives.

The researchers said the phenomenon could be caused by parts of the brain that store autobiographical memories such as the prefrontal cortex or the temporal lobe. Those parts of the brain are not susceptible to loss of oxygen and blood during serious injury, which means they are one of the last functions to “shut down.”

The study, published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition, concludes: “Re-experiencing one’s life events is a phenomenon with well-defined characteristics, and its subcomponents may also be evident in healthy people.

“This suggests that there is a representation of life events as a continuum in the cognitive system, and it can also be expressed in extreme conditions of psychological and physiological stress,” the authors clarify.

Do we see life pass before our eyes when we die? Science responds

It is said that a person sees his life pass before his eyes in the instant before taking the cold hand of death. In series and movies, they make this event look very romantic, even a little fanciful. But some experts assure that this phenomenon is real and it is not just a legend that is told out there.

A Canadian study found that the human brain does not stop working at the same time that the lungs and heart stop working.

When oxygen and blood stop, doctors declare a clinical death. But in this 2017 research, it was observed that the brain continued to show signs of activity, even 10 minutes after declaring death.

The brain waves that were recorded in the patients were the same type as those present during deep sleep, also known as REM. The most interesting thing is that the results of each person varied among themselves, which would imply that each body experiences death differently.

Some experts postulate that near-death experiences are related to REM sleep. This stage is characterized by rapid eye movement and the presence of visual representations based on our long-term memory. In other words, in Christian, REM sleep is when we dream the most.

Another 2013 study (collaboration between the United States, Canada and India) linked REM dreams with the visions that people have when witnessing a near-death experience. Which is consistent with Canadian research and their discovery of brain waves that don’t stop working, even after death. This would mean that those memories would be like a kind of dream.

The work that most confirms the theory that we see our entire life before we die was carried out by the Hadassah Hebrew University Medical Center, in Israel. This work revolved around the so-called life review experience (LRE).

In it, it was postulated that the part of the brain that stores our memories is the last to “disconnect.”

Cortex like the prefrontal is not affected by the loss of blood and oxygen, so it would make sense that the last thing our minds can do is remember.

In the study, people who experienced this life review were interviewed. Participants confirmed that they did indeed relive their memories during a near-death event. They came to them in disarray and sometimes one memory would even overlap another. The constant was that they were memories with a strong emotional charge.

The experts concluded that the evidence indicates that representations of our life continue to exist in our cognitive system. 

And that highly stressful situations (psychologically and physiologically) seem to trigger them. In other words, our most precious moments are the last to abandon us before leaving. Sounds very romantic, doesn’t it? And science says so.

FAQS: Does your brain play back memories when you die?

How long does the brain live after death?

Ten minutes: the time that the brain lives after the death of the body. Brain activity would be maintained for several minutes after a patient has been declared dead according to various studies.

When we die Do we have 7 minutes of brain activity?

Scientists have found the human brain will continue to function for more than 10 minutes after the body has died. Intensive care physicians confirmed finding in a patient whose heart had stopped and whose pupils were unreactive the same form of brain waves that happens in healthy patients during deep sleep.

Can u hear after u die?

The last sense to go in the dying process is supposed to be listening, but never presume the person is unable to hear you. Talk as though you can be noticed by them, even though they seem to be unconscious or restless.

What’s the longest someone has died and came back to life?


Does dying hurt?

Pain is not an anticipated aspect of the process of dying. Currently, certain persons feel no discomfort whatsoever. However, if someone’s specific illness causes any discomfort, it may be controlled by prescription medicines.

In this article we answered the question ‘’Does your brain play back memories when you die?’’ We showed you what happens in the brain before dying and what the last minutes of consciousness are like.

If you have any questions or comments please let us know!


Katz, J., Saadon-Grosman, N., & Arzy, S. (2017). The life review experience: Qualitative and quantitative characteristics. Consciousness and Cognition, 48, 76–86.

‌Parnia, S., Spearpoint, K., de Vos, G., Fenwick, P., Goldberg, D., Yang, J., … McPara, R. M. S. (2014). AWARE—AWAreness during REsuscitation—A prospective study. Resuscitation, 85(12), 1799–1805.

‌Consciousness and Cognition. (2019). Retrieved January 28, 2021, from website: