** Updated March 2023 **
Symptoms of ego death can be varied and unique but generally may include,
- feeling closer to the people in your life,
- new mental perspectives, aka ‘becoming the observer’,
- introspective visual and emotional sensations or hallucinations,
- out of body experiences,
- simulation experiences and
- synchronicity events.
Symptoms of ego death can be mild or very very intense out of body experiences and many things in between. As such Ego Death exists on a spectrum. In this article I’ll discuss some of the symptoms you may experience along this spectrum.
Table of Contents:
- To experience Ego?
- Symptoms of Ego Death
- New Perspectives
- Feeling very close to people
- Becoming The Observer
- Ego Death and depersonalization
- Feelings and hallucinations of ‘one-ness’
- Mild out of body experiences and hallucinations
- What happens when your ego ‘breaks’?
- Learn more about Ego Death or Ego Dissolution
- Ego Death Experiences
- How to achieve Ego Death
- Can Ego Death cause death?
To experience Ego?
What is a human ego? I think it’s worth noting that an ego can be looked at in a few different ways but from a spiritual and psychedelic perspective I think I would say that an ego is or has the qualities of,
- Being a part of our conscious mind or conscious experience,
- Is often the dominant part of our psyche as an adult to the point where we may not notice any other part of ‘ourselves’ while it is in control or dominant.
- The Ego can be reduced in its dominance with practices like meditation and ceremonial psychedelics. An extreme reduction would lead to Ego Death.
- The Ego intermediates our interactions in the physical (defined by the 5 main senses) world and allows us to navigate social interactions and day to day needs.
- The Ego can serve to separate us from other people in that the ego considers itself important (more so than others) and separate from others.
- An over pronounced Ego can result in a lack of control or ‘awareness’ which can lead to selfish tendencies and narcissism.
- The Ego is necessary to live in the physical world but there are benefits to knowing how to control and manage it.
Why is Ego important?
Ego is important to humans because it provides a ‘guide’ for our survival. It’s the thing that drives us or compels us to plan for the future, provide for the present and plan and organize various aspects of our lives. Without the ego I think you would not be able to navigate the world as well as you could without it.
Like anything else though the ego can be indulged too much with negative consequences. We can become,
- selfish and petty,
- quick to anger,
- anxious and
- harder to be around which can effect our relationships.
The trick, as with many things, is to have the ego in balance or at least strive toward less imbalance. To let our ego’s drive us but not create undue anxiety or selfishness. This is the aim of therapeutic psychedelics in my opinion and one of the main benefits of psychedelics and ego death experiences. Psychedelics provide a chance to correct any potential imbalances we may have.
TIP: Many people will say (demand even!) they have no imbalances and need their ego. This is partly because they haven’t experienced psychedelics and partly because their ego does not want to be diluted. It likes to be in control. As such you will often find people who hate the idea of ego death and psychedelics.
Symptoms of Ego Death:
Ego death actually exists on a spectrum of ‘strength’ or perhaps ‘intensity’. At the weaker end of the spectrum (ie experienced at low doses of psychedelics) you can start to have new perspectives about people in your life or experiences which have shaped you significantly.
For example, when I drank Ayahuasca one of the things I remember feeling was that there were people that I should try and reach out to more in my life. Something that hadn’t really occurred to me with those particular people because we ‘butted heads’.
Another example might be that I was able to see some psychological traumas from my past from the other persons perspective. A kind of empathy that wasn’t able to be experienced previously because a particular person had hurt me emotionally or even physically in some way.
TIP: As we go through this article I will show you more intense examples of ego death on the same spectrum but further toward the end of it.
Feeling very close to people:
On the same spectrum of ego death but also at the lower end of the spectrum is feeling closer to the people around you or perhaps in your life more generally.
One of the things your ego does is identifies you as an individual compared to others in the world. As such in some sense it can be considered something which separates us from other people.
When the ego is ‘dialed down’ in strength under the influence of psychedelics we start to temporarily (Ayahuasca can last 4 -6 hours) feel less attached to this sense of self identity which we call the ego.
You Default Mode Network (DMN) is thought to be the ‘seat’ of your ego neurologically speaking. Robin Carhart-Harris in his research on the influence of psychedelics on the brain has shown that the DMN is temporarily reduced in its activity or ‘dialed down’.
It’s this dialing down of the ego that I think can lead to you feeling closer to others in your life and around you as your sense of self is reduced in strength for the hours with which the psychedelics are effective on you.
Becoming The Observer:
Slightly further up the ego death scale towards the middle is ‘becoming the observer’.
The observer refers to the ability, after experiencing ego death to a significant degree, to perceive (or observe from a distance) your own ego at work.
The important aspect here is ‘observation from a distance’. In waking reality you don’t normally perceive your self from the outside but are on the inside of it looking out.
In our daily lives our sense of self feels like our one and only identity but, as the psychoanalyst Freud points out, our psyche is actually made up of several different psychological structures that, in our normal daily activities, map onto one another so that they appear as one.
Under the influence of psychedelics you can notice these as separate parts and it is this observation of them ‘from a distance’ or ‘with detachment’ that is referred to as ‘being the observer’.
Being the observer can be achieved through various methods (meditation or even exercise of various types) but since this article is about Ego Death let’s talk about it from a psychedelic perspective.
In one of my last Ayahuasca experiences in Peru near the beginning of 2019 I had to go to the bathroom half way through the ceremony and I did so. While I was in the bathroom I had such a reduced sense of ego (Default Mode Network) that I could very clearly hear the various parts of my psyche talking to each other. The ego was saying something like, “we don’t need to stay for the rest of these ceremonies we’ve done enough surely” and another part of my psyche said “we are doing all of these ceremonies, each and every one”. They weren’t voices but more like thoughts. They were not external thoughts to my understanding but internal parts of me communicating.
Ego Death and depersonalization
Depersonalization is characterized by a,
‘…feeling of being outside yourself and observing your actions, feelings or thoughts from a distance. Derealisation is where you feel the world around is unreal. People and things around you may seem “lifeless” or “foggy”.’NHS UK
Which is another way of saying ‘ego-dissolution’ or ‘ego death’ but perhaps not so temporary as was my experience. As I have described in this article ego death exists on a scale of intensity all the way from feeling more empathy to becoming the observer to having your consciousness completely out of your body.
Depersonalization as described above has a negative connotation but like all things ego death experiences can be done correctly or incorrectly. If done incorrectly you could do too much psychedelics and the effects of depersonalization could last too long and disrupt your life. Done correctly psychedelics are meant to provide the effects of depersonalization for a few hours and no longer. Enough for you to gain some insight but not to last too long.
Here are some rules of thumb to guide your psychedelic experience (s) more safely and avoid the effects of depersonalization lasting too long.
- Don’t do heroic levels of psychedelics if you personally or anyone in your immediate family has psychotic issues, daytime hallucinations or schizophrenia.
- TIP: The list of mental health issues which may not combine well with psychedelics is probably longer than those I’ve described. Consult a psychedelic experienced trained mental health professional if you are not sure if this aspect applies to you.
- It’s also important to do psychedelics in a therapeutic style by focussing on set and setting. Set an intention and take them in a ceremonial style not a party or casual atmosphere.
- TIP: If you are someone who shouldn’t do psychedelics based on the above criteria then meditation is probably the softer, more delicate and controllable ‘scalpel’ vs the ‘chainsaw’ that heroic doses of psychedelics can be.
- Don’t do ‘heroic levels’ ** of psychedelics very often. I would suggest that in the case of Ayahuasca you could do 3-5 ceremonies in 1-2 weeks every 6-18 months but personally I would warn against doing more than this and more frequently although this will vary form person to person.
- In my experience I would also be careful with any kind of powerful drug, even Marajuana, in the 12 months after taking psychedelics. I would also add psilocybin mushrooms (magic mushrooms) to that list of substances to be very weary of soon after heroic psychedelics doses.
- The danger is that too many powerful psychedelics can lead to ‘too much too soon’ whereas if you spread the same amount of psychedelics over 5 years you would probably not have issues assuming the other aspects in this list are taken into consideration.
- ** Heroic Levels of psychedelics refers to significant amounts of them. Enough to significantly change your state of mind to bring on the effects described by depersonalization. An Ayahuasca ceremony is usually always a ‘heroic dose’ and anything above 0.5 grams of psilocybin mushrooms would also be heroic in my experience however many people would say 2+ grams is more accurate. This depends on your sensitivity to the specific chemical compound.
Feelings and hallucinations of ‘one-ness’:
Further along our ego death spectrum somewhere past the middle towards the far right hand side (ie increasing in intensity) are spiritual type experience (s) or visions of ‘one-ness’. In significant ego death experiences you can often feel as if ‘we are all one’.
It’s hard to describe this feeling but under the influence of Ayahuasca I have experienced this through hallucinations where it was as if the people in the room with me were all of one ‘entity’ of white light. They had an individual shape but were, at their base, connected to each other.
This was not just a concept but something that I could see my my minds eye – an Ayahuasca hallucination or vision in other words.
Mild out of body experiences and hallucinations:
Somewhere around the same part of the spectrum as ‘feelings of one-ness’ I would put mild out of body experiences.
It’s possible to achieve ego death to the point where you don’t feel like you are in your body. I’ve had some of these experiences out of ceremony and it helped in many ways. They were temporary for me but came over a period of a few days.
It might be that it is our ego which allows us to perceive with our 5 main senses and when this is dissolved to large degrees we are able to experience the world via senses we possess outside of the ego’s normal waking reality.
In Hindu thought this may be referred to the as the subtle body – a part of ourselves which is not bound by the laws of physics in the material world. This may also be the part of us which experiences dreams at night while our day to day and problem solving mind (ie Ego) rests and is offline for a time.
TIP: These are speculations – I’m not a well versed Hindu philosopher or astral traveler – but I think there is some relationship there worth noting.
Yet further along the ego death spectrum are simulation experiences where we can start to glimpse ‘reality’. In some of my psychedelic experiences I’ve been told (by whoever I’m in contact with while in the trip) that we are in a simulation or sorts where ‘souls’ come to this ‘reality’ to ‘ level up’.
Once the ego has been dissolved enough, psychedelic experiences can start to suggest to you that an ego is required to navigate material reality and that it is in fact a place where some souls come to level up.
In this way the ego is part and parcel of being here and is necessary to navigate the world but it doesn’t mean that you can’t temporarily dissolve it for a time or that it has to be considered the complete sum of us.
Associated with the above and on a similar part of the ego death spectrum are synchronicity events. Once you experienced enough ego death or dissolution, some people start to have very strange synchronicity events. Basically, events and situations in your life appear to take on a ‘relationship’ to each other in very strange ways.
One theory I read says that synchronicity events are signals from the simulation or that they are communications from a ‘higher self’.
A useful video on the topic of synchronicities is that of Tom Montalk where he talks about why they happen and what they may mean.
You might also want to look into the work of Carl Jung who talked a fair amount on synchronicities and is a very influential person in the world of modern psychology.
Complete out of body experiences aka Ego Death:
At the furthest end of the ego death spectrum are complete our of body experiences or what is known as ‘ego death’. I haven’t experienced this myself but, others I’ve tripped with have and later told me about it. Basically, it’s possible to dissolve your ego to the point where you don’t even feel like you have a body anymore.
This makes sense from certain spiritual frameworks (Hinduism) for example which says we are not just a physical body but have other ‘layers’ to our beings which aren’t readily accepted – in western thought at least. It’s far easier to restrict our concepts of the world to the material and sensible (with our 5 main senses).
The later stages Ego Death can be dangerous and isn’t necessarily something for everyone to aim for. For example, those with psychosis in everyday life are generally not considered safe to take psychedelics.
I’m not trying to say that all occasions of complete ego death are bad just that they do need to be approached with caution as they can, even for those without psychosis, cause disruption to your life if you are not quite ready for it. Or as I suspect even if you think you are.
A ‘bad trip’:
A Bad Trip or a ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ refers to when you have a psychedelic experience, Ayahuasca or other, and you feel very sick or are pained psychologically by a tough set of experiences. These are well known to be good for you in the long term but temporarily unpleasant.
In my own experience a bad trip is often when you are
- having trouble letting go of the control that your you normally experience from having your ego in play. As Ego Death comes on this control is loosened and The Ego does not like this.
- Or trip comes on in a situation where it’s inappropriate to trip like public or at a bar and feels a lot like paranoia.
- Or you have passed these points and you are getting insights about your life which you don’t like or enjoy. Perhaps you’re previous behavior you are now shown, in the trip, was regretful and reliving this feels bad.
Ultimately, if you have the last one this is a great sign as you are making progression albeit painful. If you had the first then try to let go and just roll into the experience. Reassure yourself by telling yourself internally that this is temporary and in the long run this is good for you. You will quickly get to some useful insights once passed this point. If you are experiencing the second one then now you know not to trip in public and next time do it in private.
When the ego dies, the soul awakens:
This is a phrase that I hear sometimes and I think it needs some explaining if the person reading this is not very experienced with psychedelics but in essence it means something similar to having a spiritual awakening.
First of all your ego doesn’t really die permanently. It is temporarily diluted (or dialed down) for a few hours. It’s this period of time that allows the psychedelics to be useful to you.
When your ego is temporarily dialed down your ‘soul’ has a chance to awaken. While this sounds airy fairy and woo-woo there is a neurological perspective which might be more palatable than using the phrase ‘spiritual awakening’.
Robin Carhart-Harris, a British neuroscientist, researched the effect of psychedelics on the brain and described that activity in the Default Mode Network (DMN) is reduced. At the same time new connections, between parts of the brain which don’t normally have neural pathways connected between each other, start to create new connections or neural pathways.
The point here is that the DMN is where your ego is thought to ‘live’ and when it is reduced in activity your brain has a chance to ‘do something else’ neurologically.
Robin also thinks that the DMN is limiting the amount of information that your brain can take in and as such when it is reduced in activity our ability to take in new information is actually increased.
It might just be that the kinds of insights and experiences one can have on psychedelics, and that the phrase above associates with ‘the soul’, are a part of reality like any other but ones which we are not used to experiencing because our DMN (aka the ego) is filtering this kind of information out.
Why does your DMN filter out information do you ask? I suspect the answer to this is that not all of us are ready to explore these further aspects of reality and are content karmically to concern ourselves with waking, material reality. As such we are built to filter out these aspects or at least most of us are not inclined to pause the default state of mind and explore what else is out there.
I suspect that this lack of ‘spiritual curiosity’ has something to do with our spiritual progression up until this particular life if we are to take the concepts of karma and multiple lives seriously contained in traditions like Hindu and its cousin Buddhist philosophies.
What happens when your ego ‘breaks’?
If your ego ‘breaks’ (aka depersonalization) you will feel like you are permanently ‘outside of yourself’ and unable to do much productivity wise. You might have the motivation to do some basic things but the higher levels of productivity will be difficult for you to access.
You may also have intense feelings of ‘being the observer’, out of body experiences and see the world as a simulation.
In my opinion and using some of the ideas of Hindu philosophy of the Vedas (India’s spiritual legacy in Sanskrit text form) the material world we experience in waking reality can be considered a ‘veil’ or ‘curtain’ which psychedelics pull back to reveal the full spectrum of reality and when this happens it is extremely jarring to the human ego which thinks itself separate from everything and everyone and also thinks that material reality is ‘actual reality’. It is so bought into this idea it has no idea what to do with itself and is temporarily ‘out of order’ or broken while these realizations are processing.
How to get your ego back?
If your ego has ‘broken’ in general you should ‘ground yourself’ for as long as is required and in detail this might entail,
- Spend a lot of time in nature and with animals like dogs and cats or other common domestic pets. People will possibly stress you.
- Stop taking psychedelics of any kind including Marajuana and micro-doses if you are into that.
- Clean up your diet. I can’t stress how important this is. You should,
- remove/reduce processed foods including all junk foods,
- remove/reduce processed sugar especially soft drinks and sweet,
- eat a lot of vegetables. Varied and 5 different kinds a day.
- Eat fruit also.
- Drink a lot of water. 3 liters a day wouldn’t be abnormal especially if you are in a warm climate.
- Sleep a lot.
- Exercise regularly to whatever degree you can. Even walking is good especially amongst quiet nature.
- Try not to spend too much time trying to be productive like work kind of activities or anything which requires a lot of mental effort. If you do then try to do this for a few hours only.
- Be quiet and stop listening or consuming to literature and video and audio which makes you angry or emotional. This is especially apt for social media but also other traditional kinds like books and such. Take in soft and mellow forms of music and literature and not too analytical like scientific type data.
- Personally I would not see a mental health professional inexperienced with psychedelics as they will likely not consider the esoteric spiritual concepts discussed in this article as relevant and are more likely to medicate you thinking you’re mentally unstable. You should consult a mental health professional who is experienced in psychedelic therapy.
- The danger with some mental health medications is that they are difficult to come off of and become a crutch for those who are on them long term. I have experience with this from my own personal life. It is preferable, in my opinion, to do natural and healthy things over a long period of time in order to slowly rebuild your psyche and bring it back to ‘waking reality’ without the need for medications.
- Western Medicine and philosophy in general does not consider spiritual ideas as relevant by and large because western thought has, over time, slowly removed the spiritual aspects from its investigation into reality and these days (and more increasingly since the renaissance and modern scientific frameworks for thinking about the world) focussed on what can be sensed with a human’s five main senses.
It’s the combination of these things which can help ground you and bring you back to a more ‘solid’ footing in your life so do as many of these as you can.
TIP: You may need to do this for a varied amount of time. In my own experience this was a few days but in severe cases you may need to follow this kind of lifestyle for several months or a year.
Learn more about Ego Death or Ego Dissolution:
I find now, after doing Ayahuasca, that I think of many things through the lens of Ego. For example, this podcast with Joe Rogan and neuroscientist Josepeh Ledoux, discusses topics in and around ego. Check it out if you have a chance. If you have experienced ego death to any great degree then I’m sure you will enjoy the discussion as I did.
Ego Death Experiences:
You can read several of my Ego Death Experiences under the influence of Ayahuasca from my ceremonies in Pucallpa, Peru.
- Ceremony 4 2019, Maestra Aimee, Santuario Huistin, Pucallpa Peru.
- Ceremony 5 2019, Maestra Egne, Santuario Huistin, Pucallpa Peru.
How to achieve Ego Death?
You can achieve Ego Death in several different ways. This website focusses on Ayahuasca, a psychedelic substance, in order to do so although you could also meditate and practice mindfulness if psychedelics are not for you.
TIP: Some people are not recommended to take psychedelics for mental health reasons and yet others are not interested or have not learned about its benefits and safety practices.
Can Ego Death cause death?
No you can’t die directly from an Ego Death experience although you may feel like you are heading towards death. You aren’t really close to death its just that your Ego is in control most of the time and doesn’t like to be out of control. It is literally throwing a tantrum when it makes you feel as if you are dying.
Ayahuasca can lead to death indirectly but this is not from Ego Death itself but is more to do with people not preparing properly and perhaps some ill equipped (thats an understatement) ‘shaman’. You can read more about this phenomena in an article I wrote comparing real life Ayahuasca death news to other tourist related deaths in South America.