What is a Hallucination?

An ethereal picture of colored ink dropped in water and swirling together in a rainbow of color

A hallucination is the brain’s reception of a false sensory input. This essentially means that the person having a hallucination is experiencing an event through one of their senses that is not occurring in the real world. This can be through any of the senses, with tactile then auditory hallucinations being the most common. When auditory hallucinations are examined, the most common are hearing one’s own thoughts as if they were being spoken aloud, followed by hearing one’s name being called by a voice when alone.

People may experience hallucinations as part of their normal developmental stages, especially during the preschool years, in the 2-5 year old range. Common causes of hallucinations in people without a psychiatric diagnosis are exhaustion, sleep deprivation, social isolation and rejection, severe reactive depression, amputation of a limb (phantom limb syndrome), a reaction to medication, a reaction to hallucinogens such as LSD, a reaction to other drugs such as heroin and cocaine.

Physical (organic) causes of hallucinations include delirium, tumors leading to increased intercranial pressure, temporal lobe lesions, seizures, head injuries, and irritation of sensory pathways.

In persons with a psychiatric diagnosis, it is the psychotic disorders that are generally associated with hallucinations. These include all of the schizophrenic diagnoses, and affective disorders (such as Bipolar Disorder with psychotic features).

Derek Wood is a Nationally Board Certified Psychiatric/Mental Health Nurse, and holds a Master's degree in Psychology. His experience in the online arena of mental health can be traced back to 1997, when he was a host for Online Psych on AOL. He joined Get Mental Help, Inc. as Clinical Content Director for Mental Health Matters. Derek, with his wife Lisa, developed the original version of psychTracker (then called A Mood Journal), after his diagnosis with Schizo-Affective Bipolar, when they could not find a system available that was robust enough to help him effectively manage his symptoms and accurately interpret his charting. Derek has worked in the field of mental health since 2001, as a Unit Manager of an adult long-term treatment facility, a charge nurse in an adolescent short-term inpatient facility and long-term residential facility, and as a School Psychologist. He has also written several articles which are being used as CEU for nurses and educators.

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