Is shifting realities real? The actual reality behind this bizarre TikTok trend

Young Caucasian woman in Karakoram mountain range

As strange as it sounds, teenagers are traveling to Hogwarts and attending potions class under the tutelage of Professor Snape. Well, at least that is what they claim to do judging by the hundreds of posts made on TikTok, Amino, and Reddit.

This latest and somehow bizarre online phenomenon goes by the name of ‘Reality Shifting’, where people shift their consciousness to an alternate reality through various ritualistic methods. But it remains to be seen whether there is any truth to these stories.

Key Takeaways

  • Shifting reality is an online culture where youngsters engage in shifting their consciousness from the current reality to their desired reality.
  • With no scientific evidence of reality shifting, experts dubbed the popular phenomenon to be mere lucid dreaming or self-hypnosis.
  • The stressful aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic on young people is attributed to having spawned the “online daydreaming culture” of reality shifting.
  • Former shifters who became obsessed with shifting realities admitted to the negative impact of the trend on their mental health.

The online trend of ‘Shifting Reality’ amassed popularity on Amino and TikTok among Gen Z users

‘Reality shifting’ began trending on Amino, with comprehensive guidelines on teleporting oneself, or at least your mind, to fictional realities. Eventually, the trend crossed over to TikTok where it witnessed a rampant surge in popularity and practitioners with Hogwarts being the most-visited alternate reality.

One of the notable, self-proclaimed experts on reality shifting is Kristen Datto, who claims to have shifted to the fictional world of her favorite anime, My Hero Academia. On October 24, 2020, an 18-year-old Kristen uploaded what would become one of the most popular videos on reality shifting.

Kristen Datto defines shifting as

In her tutorial video titled How to Shift Realities 101, Datto defines shifting as “an act of moving your consciousness to a whole other reality that you have envisioned”. It could be any reality, different or similar to one’s current life. She further explained that while shifting realities are not completely paranormal, it is something unexplained by science either.

Shifters, as they call themselves, claim to be able to shift to the world of a book or a television show upon their will. They shift to a “desired reality” by scripting, a process of writing down the traits of their desired reality, how and where they want to appear in the reality they want.

Though there are numerous methods on TikTok, such as the Raven method, teaching you how to shift to another reality, Kristen disagrees that a method is essential to shift.

“You [shift] with your mind. All a method is supposed to do is aid with visualization and concentration, similar to what music does when you are studying. You can literally just set an intention to shift, go to sleep and wake up and be in that world,” said Kristen in her video.

Nonetheless, all the TikTok videos and other shift advocates agree on one thing: it is absolutely necessary to stimulate the mind and let the body fall asleep in order to shift realities.

Skepticism surrounds the credibility of reality shifting with experts claiming it to be nothing more than a form of self-hypnosis and lucid dreaming

The basic idea of reality shifting could have a scientific basis as it seems to possibly be derived from the Many-Worlds Interpretation, commonly known as the multiverse theory, of quantum mechanics. However, the notion of shifting to fictional realities is scientifically unfounded.

According to Laura Rosser Kreiselmaier, a holistic psychotherapist based in Nashville, shifting realities as experienced by the TikTokers is actually a “form of self-hypnosis”. She believes the younger generation is finding ways to cope with the existential crisis of not knowing whether the earth can sustain future generations and human life.

“Then the covid pandemic has interrupted childhood, youth, young adult rites of passage as well as normal life. So, it isn’t surprising that people are trying to figure out how to cope or how to maybe induce for themselves a, quote, ‘reality’ that’s more pleasant,” Kreiselmaier elaborated to The Washington Post.

Expressing similar sentiments, hypnotist Nicole Hernandez told Cosmopolitan that shifting realities as shown on the various TikToks are in fact lucid dreaming and self-hypnosis. Moreover, she said that the methods followed by TikTok shifters to trespass realities are basically types of hypnotic induction:

“Hypnotic inductions are simply a series of rituals, such as counting down from 10 to 1 and imagining walking downstairs,” explained Hernandez to Cosmopolitan, noting that the popular “raven method” of shifting employs the same technique of counting down from 100 to 1 while imagining their desired reality. She said:

“These rituals act as suggestions that help [people] dissociate from the external world and associate with their imagination or inner world. Hypnotic inductions often help the [person] relax, leading them toward a hypnagogic state, the natural transitional state between wakefulness and sleeping. Within this state, you are fully conscious and therefore have control over the visualizations that a hypnotist would suggest.”

Psychologists have termed reality shifting as an “emergent online dreaming culture” in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic

In an academic research paper published authored by Dr. Somer that was published in ‘Current Psychology’ in October 2021, it was found out that following the imposition of social isolation in the aftermath of the global COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, there has been an increasing number of reality shifting searches on Google.

The likely scenario is that young people are seeking refuge in alternative mental activities due to the global threat imposed by the pandemic during the time. Dr. Somer and his team described the online phenomenon of reality shifting as having “psychological features of an emergent online daydreaming culture”.

The paper also highlighted the similarity between the practice of reality shifting and daydreaming and stated that a daydreamer usually projects an alternative stream of consciousness into an imagined visual scene. It said:

“Daydreaming may also require one’s agency to engage in mental introspection voluntarily to produce experiential representations which also resembles the active and intentional feature of inducing Reality Shifting.”

On the other hand, Pamela Rutledge, the director of the Media Psychology Research Center, was of the view that the basis of reality shifting is meditation as she told Insider that shifters incorporate the idea of meditation in their shifting methods by concentrating their thoughts on a single object.

“Based on all the ‘how to shift’ videos, shifting is a form of meditation – whether you consider it self-hypnosis or not.”

But fellow shifters are not keen on being told that their ability to transcend physical confinements and enter alternate realities is due to daydreaming or a form of lucid dreaming or self-hypnosis. For instance, Kristen Datto voiced her opposition regarding the skepticism surrounding their practice as she told The Washington Post;

“There are people who think I’m crazy in my family. But I’m like, ‘It’s fine.’ I know it’s real, and if you don’t know it’s real, if you don’t want to believe in it, I can’t change your mind. I’m gonna go on and have fun in those realities, and you can stay here.”

Some former shifters on TikToks have admitted that engaging in shifting realities has negatively impacted their mental health

While clinical psychologist Joshua Klapow assured Insider that the practice of shifting reality was “not inherently unhealthy”, it becomes a matter of concern when a person starts to use it “more and more to escape their present life”.

“Like any other behavior, the more [shifting] dominates, the more it leads to an unbalanced and unhealthy life. For those at risk of dissociative conditions, such as psychosis, it can potentially make the condition worse,” added Klapow.

In an interview with Insider, former shifters on TikTok, with some as young as 17-year-old, confessed that initially shifting was an opportunity for them to escape the increasingly taxing world in light of lockdowns brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

For some teenagers, it was about escaping from their unhappy lives, coping with their depression and suicidal thoughts, and building the perfect reality somewhere. However, things took a dark turn when they found themselves becoming obsessed with shifting realities.

“[It is] kind of like how people describe drugs. The higher the euphoria, the lower the crash,” said Sarah, a former shifter. She also admitted that she found herself becoming detached from reality and delusional enough to want to live in the fictional world forever.

“Younger people without a strongly-established sense of self may be at some danger from taking many new identities, as they can get divorced from reality,” said Dr. Reid, a psychology professor at Cardiff University in Wales.

Furthermore, American YouTuber James Rallison, popularly known for his channel TheOdd1sOut, criticized the reality hopping trend for being unhealthy to young people. In his video titled “My Thoughts on Reality Shifting”, he articulated that “this trend [didn’t] sit right with” him and called it a “pseudoscience” with no actual scientific credibility.

“You start off with a scientific idea: multiple realities. And then you make up whatever you want and use what the scientist have said about multiple realities as proof even though no scientist has ever said anything about being able to move your consciousness outside of your body or that you leave a clone of yourself behind when you reality shift or that cartoon universes exist,” Rallison pointed out.

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