By George A. Boyd ©2022
Q: So many people today seem caught up in an alternate reality. They are lost in conspiracy theories, swept away in cults, or they just believe really strange things. Are there some markers to indicate that someone is slipping into an alternate reality?
A: Perceptual and cognitive changes mark someone entering an alternate reality. Some of these markers that you may see include:
- Perceptual anomaly – Things seem strange or different. Your world has changed; you may not be able to put your finger on what has changed.
- Derealization – The initial experience of the world seeming strange morphs into a global sense that the world around you is unreal. The actors in the world seem like robots. You may view the world as if it was a matrix-like computer animation.
- Depersonalization – As this trance-like migration from reality continues, you may sense your own life seems unreal. You may question the motivations to which you have dedicated your efforts—whether your education or career choices make sense anymore, or if your dreams are really worthwhile to pursue.
- Mindset shift – At this step in the journey into an alternate reality, you reach a state of delusional conviction. A demagogue or a cult leader may convince you that you have been lied to—and this person will then promise to tell you the truth that has been hidden from you. They will program you into believing their warped version of reality, so that you look to them to inform you about what is really going on the in world. You may begin to have spurious signs that indicate the truth of what they are saying. You may have delusional “revelations” that prove to you that they are telling you the truth.
- Identity shift – At this stage, you will have entered that alternate reality and identify with it. You believe alternative facts about the world you have been told. You now live in the alternate reality and have disidentified with your former life. You now orient your life with new relationships with those who belong to this group, and look to the leader of this group to guide you.
- Delusional contagion – When you become established in the alternate reality, you may attack others who do not believe in your new worldview. You may attempt to convert others to join you in your delusional mindset and alternate reality.
- Paranoia – If you stay in this state of altered awareness for long enough, you may begin to resort to magical thinking. You believe you can simply wish for what your want and it will manifest. You embrace a feeling that you are omnipotent and can simply create what you want. If people push back on your beliefs, you may feel you are under attack—that others are trying to undermine your movement and drag you back into the matrix—and you can become paranoid at this stage. Alternately, you can continue to believe you are all-powerful; you become grandiose and arrogant.
When people undergo disruptive loss or experience trauma, they may become temporarily uprooted from the established routine of their lives. This can move people into stage three—they are not sure what is true anymore. They question their lives. They question their faith.
It is these people who have had these disruptive experiences that become vulnerable to the demagogues, the cult leaders, the terrorist and hate group recruiters, or the media influencers that introduce them into the mindset, and ultimately, lead them to identification with a movement anchored in an alternate reality.
Q: You mentioned cognitive changes. Can you be more specific with what happens to people’s thinking and belief when they become caught up in an alternate reality?
A: People who are grounded and anchored in their lives have seamless integration between their ego, their Self, and their Soul. The ego is the experiencer of the events of your human life; the Self is the decision maker that decides what path to follow and what goals to pursue; and the Soul expresses its gifts and genius—its super powers—through your life. These three work together: there is little internal conflict and you make progress towards your goals.
As people begin to drift off into an alternate reality, we see a corresponding shift in their cognition—in their thinking and beliefs:
- Empirical – Thinking is grounded in observation and experience. Your beliefs are consensually validated; you restrict your beliefs to what you can verify.
- Speculative – This type of thinking introduces “what if” and “what might be” scenarios for your consideration. It extrapolates from facts and infers what might be someone’s motivation, or what might be possible if someone did things differently. Used constructively, it can promote positive change or catalyze new insights. Used destructively, it can undermine a person’s sense of identity and meaning—it can attack their ego and their sense of who they are—and this can make people more susceptible to the influence of those who seek to establish them in an alternate reality.
- Interpretive – This type of thinking reflects upon the meaning of symbols and events. Symbols are templates of meaning: you can attribute almost any meaning to a symbol. This private interpretation helps you make sense of your world, and enables you to construct a coherent philosophy and a set of congruent values. When you begin to adopt others’ interpretations of symbols and events, you may begin to drift into the mindset established in an alternate reality.
- Fixed conviction – One of the signs you have entered the world of an alternate reality is when you begin to have a belief that cannot be verified empirically, and it is not amenable to refutation or criticism. You may consider these convictions as ultimate truths, articles of faith, or sacred revelations that cannot be questioned. If these core convictions have been dictated to you by a demagogue, a cult leader, or a leader of a terrorist or hate group, you may become increasing under their control.
- Dissociative – At this stage, you become detached from reality and enter into a trance-like state. Your belief is based on a perception in an altered state of awareness, and may be subject to distortion. If you receive ideas while you are in an altered state of awareness, moreover, you can become extremely suggestible and believe whatever you are told.
- Revelatory – As detachment and dissociation with your life and reality is sustained, you may begin to receive communications from a noumenal being—a spirit, a guide, or an angel—or you might receive a purported revelation from the Divine. These types of beliefs have no rational basis and cannot be verified. The most fantastic notions can be conveyed in these encounters with Spirit World.
- Identity distortion – At this stage, you adopt a false identity state, divorced from your native grounding in ego, Self, and Soul. You might identify as a nucleus of identity or a spiritual essence that is not aligned with your innate being. In other cases, you might believe a grandiose delusion that you are a world savior or embodiment of another archetype.
In those who embrace conspiracy theories, we commonly see that they tap into stages four, five, and six—many demonstrate fixed conviction and dissociative trance states; some are also having revelations that confirm their delusional beliefs. Cult leaders may additionally induce identity distortion in their followers.
Those who are trying to come back from their involvement with cults and prolonged immersion in an alternate reality may find our Cult Recovery Coaching Program helpful to re-own your life, your genuine values, and your sense of life direction and purpose.