Tiktokers say they're 'shifting' to different realities. What does that mean?

Thumbnail credit: @djanique.joan via TikTok, @phenixl111 via TikTok, @briiannagorskii via TikTok

There’s a concept known as “reality shifting" that’s gaining popularity among TikTok users and beyond. Some creators believe they have the capacity to “shift” into different realities. And while there’s a thriving community of so-called shifters on the video-sharing platform – the hashtag #shiftingrealities has amassed more than 9.7 billion views – the concept has also drawn skeptics, including fellow users and experts who ask whether this is simply a form of dreaming.

What is ‘reality shifting’?

The term “reality shifting” refers to the act of moving one’s current reality into an alternate, desired reality. According to so-called shifters, they purportedly do this by way of “specific induction methods.” Those can include “relaxation, concentration of attention and autosuggestion,” according to a journal article published in Current Psychology. Shifting also hinges on the multiverse theory that there are an infinite number of universes and timelines coexisting with ours. When someone shifts, they believe they enter a different universe. Experts, on the other hand, argue that this is simply a form of lucid dreaming.

Djanique Isarin (@djanique.joan), a member of TikTok’s shifting community, told Yahoo News that she first heard of the term “shifting” during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. Isarin claims to have shifted before ever hearing of the term. (She recalls an early experience as a child when she shifted to a reality where her stuffed animals had come to life.) These days, her main “desired reality,” or DR, revolves around the Marvel Universe, particularly Asgard, the planetary home of Nordic deities Thor and Loki Odinson.

“My main DR is my Marvel DR. That is the reality where I shift most to. I have spent almost 8 years in that reality. I have a whole life there with Loki and I live on Asgard,” she said. “We have 3 kids so I am pretty busy with them too.”

According to the shifter community on TikTok, there is an endless number of DRs to explore. Hogwarts is a commonly cited DR that Harry Potter fans claim to visit. TikTokers also say they shift to other realities inspired by popular coming-of-age television shows like Gilmore Girls or The Summer I Turned Pretty, often by way of “scripting,” which is the act of writing down specific things shifters would like to occur in their desired reality. In many instances, shifters have also taken specific aspects from shows they enjoy and have melded them into their very own, unique desired realities.

Is ‘shifting’ just lucid dreaming?

Ehab Youssef, a licensed clinical psychologist in San Francisco, told Yahoo News that because shifting lacks any scientific evidence to prove that it’s a stand-alone concept, it is more akin to a form of “immersive daydreaming or lucid dreaming.”

According to Eli Somer, a clinical psychologist and pioneer researcher of “maladaptive daydreaming” who coined the term, immersive daydreaming is the ability to engage in elaborate and euphoric fantasy worlds for relaxation and entertainment purposes. Lucid dreaming, on the other hand, occurs when someone is asleep but is able to recognize that they are dreaming.

Those who claim to have shifted before, however, disagree. Tumblr creator Leigh claims that shifting is separate from lucid dreaming and even immersive daydreaming for that matter, because it is the act of deliberately moving your consciousness to a different reality.

Brianna Gorski (@briiannagorskii) first learned of reality shifting in September 2020 when “DracoTok” was trending on the video-sharing platform, referring to the Draco Malfoy character in Harry Potter. Gorski admits that while she understands the misconception, she says shifting involves actually living in that universe.

“If you ever hear someone say, ‘You can manifest anything,’ that's true because with reality shifting, your options are limitless,” she told Yahoo News. “You truly can live the life (or lives) that you desire. Lucid dreaming is fun but it's just that, a dream. … Dreaming and living a life in a real place are two very different things.”

Can shifting pose a risk to mental health?

John Sahakian, a Los Angeles hypnotherapist – a trained professional who uses hypnosis to treat conditions like insomnia and anxiety – believes that shifting “is as real as one makes it.” He notes, however, that the act of shifting involves entering a “trance state,” and this will inevitably affect the nervous system. With this in mind, Sahakian urges shifters to look inward and ensure they’re in a stable state of mind before doing so.

“Shifting, hypnosis, or dropping into a trance state can cause shifts in our nervous system, change our breathing patterns, affect heart rate and pulse, and certainly influence our emotional experience,” Sahakian told Yahoo News. “Because our subconscious works with our nervous system, this is why healing modalities such as hypnotherapy can be therapeutic. I believe it’s always important for any mind-altering experience to be facilitated by a professional and for anyone who explores shifting to be of stable mind and body with no history of mental illness.”

Youssef also cautions those who engage in so-called shifting to be mindful of whether the practice leads to an inability to discern the difference between their “constructed alternate realities and the objective reality around them.” Negative effects of the practice could include a difficulty in coping with “real-life” stressors due to excessive engagement in their “fictional world.”

“If someone begins to prioritize or invest more in their shifted reality over their real-life responsibilities, it could be a sign of crossing that line,” he wrote via email. “Shifting becomes a cause for concern when it interferes with daily functioning, relationships, or mental well-being. … As with many imaginative practices, moderation and a balanced perspective are key to avoiding potential negative impacts on mental health.”