This means making something familiar into something unfamiliar, basically. It started as a theater term, the definition and history are below. I found an interesting video, still trying to figure out how to upload this!!
More on the description, there are several words for it in different languages. The distancing effect or alienation effect (German: Verfremdungseffekt) is a performing arts concept coined by playwright Bertolt Brecht “which prevents the audience from losing itself passively and completely in the character created by the actor, and which consequently leads the audience to be a consciously critical observer.” Brecht’s term describes the aesthetics of his epic theatre.
The term of Verfremdungseffekt is rooted in the Russian Formalist notion of the device of making strange or “priem ostranenie”, which literary critic Viktor Shklovsky claims is the essence of all art. Not long after seeing a performance by Mei Lanfang’s company in Moscow in the spring of 1935, Brecht coined the German term to label an approach to theater that discouraged involving the audience in an illusory narrative world and in the emotions of the characters. Brecht thought the audience required an emotional distance to reflect on what is being presented in critical and objective ways, rather than being taken out of themselves as conventional entertainment attempts to do.
The proper English translation of Verfremdungseffekt is a matter of controversy. The word is sometimes rendered as defamiliarization effect, estrangement effect, distantiation, alienation effect, or distancing effect. In Brecht and Method, Fredric Jameson abbreviates Verfremdungseffekt as “the V-effekt”; many scholars similarly leave the word untranslated.
Verfremdungseffekt is also commonly translated as alienation effect. Though this is not a direct translation, as the German word Verfremdungseffekt does not have a literal English equivalent. Its closest literal translation into English, making (the familiar) strange, signifies estrangement, or alienation from the familiar.
In German, Verfremdungseffekt signifies both alienation and distancing in a theatrical context; thus, “theatrical alienation” and “theatrical distancing”. Brecht wanted to “distance” or to “alienate” his audience from the characters and the action and, by dint of that, render them observers who would not become involved in or to sympathize emotionally or to empathize by identifying individually with the characters psychologically; rather, he wanted the audience to understand intellectually the characters’ dilemmas and the wrongdoing producing these dilemmas exposed in his dramatic plots. By being thus “distanced” emotionally from the characters and the action on stage, the audience could be able to reach such an intellectual level of understanding (or intellectual empathy); in theory, while alienated emotionally from the action and the characters, they would be empowered on an intellectual level both to analyze and perhaps even to try to change the world, which was Brecht’s social and political goal as a playwright.