What Are Hallucinations?

Types, Causes, and Examples

Are you Hallucinating?
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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, or 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 Can Occur With Bipolar Disorder

Hallucinations are most often associated with schizophrenia. However, they may also occur when you have bipolar disorder when either your depression or mania has psychotic features or symptoms, which include hallucinations and delusions. Sometimes people with bipolar disorder are misdiagnosed with schizophrenia because they may have psychotic symptoms.

Hallucinations are one possible characteristic specifically of bipolar I disorder, both in mania and in depression. In bipolar II, hallucinations may occur only during depression. Cyclothymia by definition excludes the presence of hallucinations. If you have hallucinations and/or delusions, chances are good that you've been diagnosed with bipolar disorder with psychotic features.

Types of Hallucinations

There are five types of hallucinations, including:

  • Auditory: This is the most common type of hallucination. You may hear voices or sounds that no one else can.
  • Visual: You may see people, colors, shapes, or items that aren't real. This is the second most common type of hallucination.
  • Tactile: You may feel sensations or feel like you're being touched when you're not. This can include a feeling of bugs crawling all over you or under your skin. These hallucinations rarely occur in bipolar disorder.
  • Olfactory: You smell something that no one else can and that has no physical source. This type is less common than visual and auditory.
  • Taste: You have a taste in your mouth that has no source. This is the rarest type of hallucination.

Other Causes of Hallucinations

Not only do hallucinations occur in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, they can occur in these physical and psychological instances as well:

  • Schizoaffective disorder
  • Migraine
  • Epilepsy
  • Alcohol or drug withdrawal
  • Middle or inner ear diseases
  • Stroke
  • Auditory nerve disease
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Dissociative identity disorder
  • Neurologic disorders
  • Glaucoma
  • Ophthalmic diseases
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Using hallucinogens
  • Narcolepsy
  • Metabolic conditions

Examples of Hallucinations

Here are two people's experiences of hallucinations:

"I don't see pink cartoon bunnies, but sometimes when I'm 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."

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