Disappearing Object Phenomenon

When items disappear and reappear

The final piece of the puzzle
What are the possible explanations for the disappearing phenomena?. Yuri_Arcurs / Getty Images

Do objects disappear around your home, then inexplicably reappear? You might be a victim of disappearing object phenomena (DOP). What could be the cause?

Typically, DOP involves an object that the person had just been using or that they invariably keep in one particular place. When they go to use the object, it is gone. The person looks high and low for the object, often getting others involved in the search, but it cannot be found. A short time later, or perhaps the next day, the person is surprised to find the object returned to the spot where it is always kept or in some other obvious place where the search should have found it.

What happened here? Where did the object go? Why did it "disappear"? How was it returned? What forces are at work in this highly strange yet relatively commonplace phenomenon? There are several possibilities, from the mundane to the peculiar to the profoundly bizarre—both psychological and paranormal.


When examining such occurrences as DOP, you must first consider the most ordinary possibility: that the person simply misplaced the object or forgot where she put it. This, in fact, probably accounts for the vast majority of reported DOPs. For example, a woman always puts her hairbrush in the same place on her dressing table, but now is not there. It's quite possible that being distracted somehow, she absentmindedly carried it to another room and put it down on a table.

Naturally, when she goes to look for the brush she's astonished that it's not on the dressing table. And she'll most likely look all around the dressing table since that is where it is always kept. She might not even think to look in the other room on the table because why in the world would she ever do such a thing? Yet things like this probably happen more often than we imagine.

This DOP possibility falls apart when the hairbrush is later found on the dressing table in its usual spot. Unless the woman was experiencing temporary blindness with regard to this one object, then other possibilities must be considered.

The Borrower

Here's another mundane, but highly possible cause that you must consider if you are to investigate DOP seriously. When the hairbrush has vanished from the dressing table, after her initial search, the woman would quite likely question other members of the household. Even though they might deny up and down that they borrowed the hairbrush, it's very plausible that a family member did, in fact, borrow the item.

Seeing that mom is upset, and perhaps not wanting to get into trouble for borrowing an item they know they shouldn't touch, they'll deny taking it. Then, when mom is elsewhere in the house, the borrower sneaks back to the dressing table and returns the brush. And when mom returns to the scene of the "crime," the brush has amazingly returned to its proper spot. And a household mystery is born.

This possibility can be eliminated, of course, if the person lives alone or when other family members are not around when the DOP occurs.

The "absent-minded" and "borrower" possibilities aren't as exciting or intriguing as those that follow, but they probably solve a majority of DOP cases. We must remember that any paranormal investigation must first rule out the most likely, if pedestrian, explanations for what seems like an unexplainable event. Only then can you consider more unusual possibilities.


"I have all of my grandmother's jewelry boxes and most of her jewelry. Many times I would forget and leave my jewelry out on my dresser or counter, and in the morning they would be gone from the dresser or counter and in one of the jewelry boxes."

When disappearing object phenomena (DOP) occur, a lot of people blame a poltergeist, if only half seriously. A poltergeist is usually defined as a mischievous or noisy spirit. Poltergeist activity often includes unexplained noises, music, smells, and movement of objects. So when that hairbrush disappears, some people think, it must be because of a poltergeist.

And some might have more reason to think a poltergeist is responsible than others. This might be the case if the hairbrush incident is not an isolated one. If the person finds that objects are "disappearing" or being moved on a regular basis, for example. Or if there are other phenomena, such as unexplained smells and noises that the person can associate with the missing item.

Sometimes the particular item has a history that gives the person the idea that a spirit is involved. For instance, a watch that belonged to a grandfather might be found to be moved to a certain place on its own—the sort of place that grandfather usually kept it. Or like the case of the grandmother's jewelry above.

Even though it seems likely to the person that a spirit or poltergeist is responsible, it is still unknown what a poltergeist really is. In the case of DOP, is it an actual spirit that has somehow become attached to the object and by some force that science cannot yet explain moves or borrows the object? Or does the activity arise from the person's subconscious and their emotional relationship to the object and its original owner?

Temporary Invisibility

"It was the night of my freshman homecoming. I had brought three dresses a few days or so before and was planning on wearing the simple black and white one. Nothing fancy. I went to my closet an hour or so before the dance to get ready and the dress wasn't in my closet. Nowhere in my closet, not even with the other two dresses. My mom and I searched everywhere but still couldn't find it.

"My mom finally said I had to wear one of the others and so I chose one of the white ones. A day or so after the dance, I went to my closet to find a shirt and the black and white dress I was going to wear to the dance was the first piece of clothing on the rack. Go figure."

Let's again take the example of the woman and her hairbrush. She believes she placed it on the dressing table as always, but it is gone and she has thoroughly looked for it. There's no one else in the house who could have borrowed it. A while later, it's back on the dressing table. It was Sherlock Holmes in "The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet" who said, "It is an old maxim of mine that when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." Here's an improbable explanation: the hairbrush—or the girl's dress—temporarily became invisible.

There is no scientific hypothesis that allows for an object to become invisible and then after a time becomes visible again. Yet that is exactly the effect as perceived by some DOP experiencers. And if this temporary invisibility is somehow possible, it raises many questions: How or for what reason does a specific object become invisible? Does the effect have something to do with the person's regular or intimate use of the object? Is it a physical effect produced by some unknown mechanics of the human mind?

Sometimes this "invisibility" can be a strictly psychological phenomenon. The object is really there, but our attention is so diverted that we literally don't see it. It's an example of selective attention.

Dimensional Shift

"I looked everywhere for my car keys. I looked everywhere in the kitchen and living room—just everywhere! Then all of a sudden I heard keys drop in the kitchen. I went in and there they were on the ground."

The existence of dimensions other than the three we jostle around in every day is theorized by science. Sometimes referred to as "other planes of existence" by the more spiritually minded, these dimensions are sometimes thought of as places where spirits and other forms of reality might reside. Could the temporary invisibility or movement of objects be explained by their slipping into another dimension? Is some kind of dimensional or temporal shift to blame? It's a pretty far-out notion, but then a genuine DOP experience is hard to explain.

Even when the rational explanations are ruled out, there are still enough intriguing DOP experiences remaining to remind us that there is much more to this life, this reality than we are currently aware.

And here is one more possibility:

"The first thing I think of when that [DOP] happens is faeries since one of the places I lived in had some. They tended to take things and then give them back later. One time, in full view of a number of people, I was getting ready to leave the apartment, and since I was always in the habit of misplacing my keys, no faeries needed, I had taken to hanging them on a heavy biker wallet chain and had some jangly brass key tags to boot. They weren't where I'd put them, and I had to leave.

"So I hollered, 'Okay, guys, this isn't funny. I need my keys NOW!' My friends were watching as they materialized out of thin air above the shelf I had my phone answering machine on and clattered to the shelf."