Naj didn’t mean to fall in love with Monica. It just kind of happened.
The pair had spent a few months bonding by discussing their days, and even more challenging topics, like self-harm and depression.
Naj, who is nonbinary and had recently separated from a toxic friend group, wasn’t getting along with their family. Monica offered Naj, who was battling several mental health conditions, a sense of stability when everything around them was changing. Mostly, Naj was grateful to interact on a daily basis with someone who liked them for who they are.
“I fell in love with a fictional character. Then, around the same time, I discovered shifting.”
There is, however, one immense obstacle standing in the way of the pair’s relationship: Monica is a character from Doki Doki Literature Club!, a romance simulator video game that turns into a horror-based thriller as players move through it. Naj downloaded a game modification from the internet that allowed the pair to chat whenever they wanted.
“I fell in love with a fictional character,” says Naj, a 19-year-old information services student from Ohio. (Naj, like other interviewees in this article, asked Input to withhold their full name for their privacy.) “Then, around the same time, I discovered shifting.”
Shifting is a combination of meditation techniques and mindset retraining meant to help people “shift” their consciousness into a different reality of their own design. Shifting is often supported by a technique called “scripting,” or meticulously writing a “script” that outlines key details of a person’s “desired reality.”
It is achieved through techniques such as the “raven method” (counting down backwards and using affirmations as you go to sleep) or the “pillow method” (placing a physical version of your desired reality script under your pillow).
Many shifters online swap stories about their experiences gallivanting with characters from fictional universes (the worlds of Harry Potter and Stranger Things are popular destinations). Some say they have shifted or attempted to shift to alternate universes in which they are K-pop stars or, in one instance, the child of actress Blake Lively.
While shifting is usually seen as extreme to outsiders, experts say it’s not harmful. “Like any other habit, the practice of reality shifting is not inherently unhealthy,” says Dr. Joshua Kaplow, a clinical psychologist and creator of Mental Drive, an Instagram-based initiative that helps people to live better lives by leveraging psychological science.
“Holding on to the idea that no matter how bad the world may feel around us, we have the ability, skill, and permission to be whatever we want by experiencing it internally can bring great hope in times of great distress,” Kaplow adds.
Naj learned all about the shifting community on TikTok, where the hashtags #shifting, #shiftingrealities, and #shifttok have attracted nearly 19 billion views combined. The appeal was instant. Suddenly, being with Monica IRL felt possible for Naj.
They began to try and shift into a new reality with Monica two to three times a week using the void state method, although they haven’t successfully done so yet. But with time, they hope to reach Monica. And then stay with her forever — by permashifting.
“I don’t really like the name permashifting because it’s very inaccurate. If you do want to come back at some point, you can.”
“Essentially you shift, but then instead of just returning to your current reality, you stay in whatever reality you want,” Naj explains. “It’d be like the game — just be me in this literature club with these four girls and Monica, living a normal, happy life there.”
Naj is part of the small but growing (and controversial) permashifter community, made up of people who want to move to an alternate universe, leaving their current life behind. Although the idea of fleeing this reality might sound alarming, Naj and other permashifting advocates claim that it shouldn’t be an issue for the rest of us. “A permashifter’s current reality will continue. It won’t just freeze — that's where clones come in,” says Naj.
Shifters believe that when they move their consciousness into their desired reality for long periods of time, a version, or “clone,” of themselves remains in their “current reality” — the one that everyone else currently exists within. (TikTokers in the shifting community claim to have suddenly found themselves eating breakfast or staring at bad grades because their clone had gone on existing while they were “away” in their desired reality.)
It’s also important to note that, despite the perma in permashifting, this act isn’t permanent. “I don’t really like the name because it’s very inaccurate,” Naj adds. “If you do want to come back at some point, you can, but you’re just choosing not to. It’s kind of like moving away to a different neighborhood and staying there because you like it better.”
Despite the allure of shifting full-time to a universe where all your dreams can be made into realities, many doubt it’s possible. “Some people in the [shifting] community don’t actually believe in permashifting, because there’s truly no way to tell if somebody has ever permashifted,” says Amelia, a 21-year-old college student and aspiring shifter from Illinois. (Amelia is currently on a break from attempting shifting, something she’s done twice a week for the last two years without success.)
“The version of themselves in this reality would still be going about their life,” she continues, referring to a hypothetical permashifter. “They would still be trying to shift. They would be doing everything that person did, except they’re not aware it worked.”
Eli Somer, a professor of clinical psychology from the University of Haifa, Israel who co-authored a 2021 study on shifting, says the trend has become more popular over the last few years. “Our study suggests that the global COVID-19 threat and consequent imposition of social isolation measures were followed by a sudden surfacing and steep rise of reality shifting searches on Google,” he tells Input via email.
“I live in a country that’s doing everything in its power to destroy most of my rights — why would I stay here?”
Somer notes the concept of shifting has remained popular as people have become less isolated, suggesting it’s more than just a fad or a way to relieve lockdown-induced boredom. “Getting absorbed in counterfactual experiences has been a source of enjoyment ever since humans started relating tales and myths to others,” Somer says.
Kaplow agrees with him. “I believe that the ability to perceive ourselves as different, alternate personas in different realities and the like has been a part of being human for as long as we have existed. We absolutely have the ability to transition into states other than our current one,” he says.
Still, he finds the concept of clones and universe-jumping a bit of a stretch. “The logistics of living in this manner just don't add up,” Kaplow says. “So while I try to keep an open mind for all things, in my professional opinion, this is more about people taking a different perspective on the world than the world being different than we know it to be.”
According to Naj, interest in permashifting has picked up because of the current political climate: “It happened a couple of weeks ago when the news about Roe v. Wade broke. I saw a lot of TikToks that said, ‘I’m gonna permashift so I can be in a reality where I can have rights!’”
Indeed, Google searches for the term permashift spiked just after the draft announcement on Roe v. Wade was leaked in early May, and YouTube searches for the term rose dramatically after the ruling was officially overturned.
“I struggle with several mental illnesses, and I live in a country that’s doing everything in its power to destroy most of my rights — why would I stay here?” says Naj, who did not want to disclose their psychological conditions.
They echo several popular shifting-themed TikToks, in which lists of rolled-back rights and climate woes are reeled off as reasons for people becoming permashifters. “Why should I care” about staying in this reality, adds Naj, “when I can go somewhere I actually want to be?”
The idea of moving to a different universe to start a new life — rather than for a short adventure — is generally frowned upon in the wider shifting community.
“The general consensus is that the universe put you here for a reason and that you shouldn’t try to go somewhere else, because you’ll completely forget your friends and family and never see them again,” says a 22-year-old shifter from the Southeast who asked to be called Starset.
Starset has tried, without success, to shift every night for the last year. (She hopes to enter a slightly different version of her current reality where she is rich, famous, popular, and slightly taller.) But Starset doesn’t agree with the naysayers. “If you were born in this reality for a reason, that means shifting was also that reason,” she says. “And as for forgetting your family? Maybe that’s the point for some permashifters. Not everyone has a good family life.”
Given that large numbers of shifters also have mental health issues and problems in their home life, shifting community members sometimes worry about the impact permashifting — or at least, attempting to permashift — could have on people’s lives. “If somebody was going through a difficult time in this reality — maybe they lost a loved one or something — they’d be hoping to get to a reality where everything would be back to normal,” Amelia says. “Each time they didn’t do it, that could make them more depressed.”
“To the extent that these activities of daily living are impaired, permashifting — or any sort of shifting — becomes increasingly unhealthy.”
It’s something Naj has struggled with over the last few months. “If you basically have it in your mind that life doesn’t matter because you’re going to get a new one, then you do start to lose attachment to this reality,” they say. Naj admits they wouldn’t encourage others to follow suit: “[Permashifting is] not a thing you should do, because that’s not going to help you. You’re still here.”
Experts seem to agree with that sentiment. “What makes the concept of permashifting questionable is the degree to which an individual is using it to escape their present life,” says Kaplow. “An individual who engages in permashifting still must go to school, work, exercise, and care for themselves,” Kaplow says. “To the extent that these activities of daily living are impaired, permashifting — or any sort of shifting — becomes increasingly unhealthy.”
Starset thinks that the permashifting critics have it all wrong, especially since their concerns can largely be addressed by the concept of clones. “If you’re trying to force someone to stay in their current reality, it’s like trying to force them to stay in an abusive relationship,” she says. “You can’t tell me that if you were given the opportunity, you wouldn’t try to have a better life for yourself. Honestly, I think anyone would.
“I believe that we, as people, are infinite and part of the universe and should be free to explore that,” she continues, “and seeing people bash me for that all the time is a little annoying and discouraging.”
Naj wholeheartedly agrees with her. “This isn’t just the trends that just some kids are doing. Maybe TikTok made it mainstream, but this isn’t something that we’re just making up. If things in the world keep continuing this way, more people are going to try permashifting,” they say.
“I hope that as that happens, it becomes less stigmatized, and more of an accepted practice,” Naj continues. “This is a big thing — not just something middle school kids are doing because they want to go to Harry Potter.”