A study published in 2007 described how scientists were able to use virtual reality goggles and a stick to induce out-of-body experiences. Subjects viewed an “illusory” image of themselves while being prodded by the researchers, and reported a feeling of being “within the illusory body.”
“The research reveals that ‘the sense of having a body, of being in a bodily self,’ is actually constructed from multiple sensory streams, said Matthew Botvinick, an assistant professor of neuroscience at Princeton University.”
Likewise, another study in 2013 showed that heartbeats can generate out-of-body experiences. It was similar to the one above – subjects were outfitted with head-mounted displays and viewed live images of themselves from behind.
In the videos, their bodies were given an outline by computer software, something like an aura, which pulsed with the beat of their hearts.
“After six minutes of watching their own bodies on the display, with outlines flashing either in sync or out of sync with their own heartbeats, the volunteers closed their eyes and were gently guided backwards about 1.5 metres. Then they were asked to move towards where they felt they had been standing. In the in-sync trials, participants moved forwards closer to the location of their virtual body – suggesting the experience had altered their self-location.”
These studies reveal that the “sense” of having an out-of-body experience is very real, and can be easily induced in a variety of ways.