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What Are Hallucinations?

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Updated May 16, 2014

Are you Hallucinating?
Tim Robberts Collection/Stone/Getty Images

The word "hallucination" comes from Latin and means "to wander mentally." Hallucinations have been defined as the "perception of a nonexistent object or event" and "sensory experiences that are not caused by stimulation of the relevant sensory organs."

In layman's terms, hallucinations involve hearing, seeing, feeling, smelling and even tasting things that are not real. However, auditory hallucinations (hearing voices or other sounds that have no physical source) are the most common type.

Hallucinations are most often associated with the mental illness schizophrenia. However, hallucinations may also occur for those with bipolar disorder when either depression or mania has psychotic features.

Hallucinations are one possible characteristic specifically of Bipolar I Disorder, both in mania and in depression; in (Bipolar II, they may occur only during depression; Cyclothymia by definition excludes the presence of hallucinations).

Examples of Hallucinations

From members of our community:

  • I don't see pink cartoon bunnies, but sometimes when manic I think I see things like motion peripherally where there is none or stuff moving in the reflections in mirrors. I think I hear my name or weird unclear snatches of noise. It makes me paranoid and then I see more stuff, but I don't actually see anything. It's more like a visual or auditory twitch.
     
  • I've had hallucinations during depression which involve seeing dead, decaying flesh on people's faces. I've also had auditory hallucinations (i.e., hearing "voices") during a mixed episode. The voices have a buzzing sound, and it seems like there are thousands of them. They are talking about me, but I can't make out what they say. And sometimes, while extremely agitated, I think I hear a voice whispering my name.

Do You Think You Are Having Hallucinations?

If you have or think you're having hallucinations and aren't sure what to do, please read Hallucinations - Do I Need Help?

Sources:
Carlson, N. R. (1998). Physiology of Behavior (6th ed.). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
Davis, S. F., & Palladino, J. J. (2000). Psychology (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.
Papolos, D. F., & Papolos, J. (1999). The Bipolar Child. New York, NY: Broadway Books.

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