Hallucinations – What Are They Like?

To someone who has never experienced the hallucinations of psychotic disorders, they may seem scary, strange, or even interesting. A hallucination is something that separates people with mental illness from those without, so I think it is important to share my experiences of what hallucinations are like.

The most common hallucinations I have had are auditory–hearing voices. These voices are not like any voice I have heard before in my life, but more like a Greek chorus of voices, many people saying something all at once. Usually, the voices will comment on my actions or my thoughts. They will criticize and demean me, calling me names. Most times they sound like they are coming from my external environment, and any ambient sound seems like it can be converted to a voice. For example, if it is windy outside, I may hear voices in the pitch and tone of the blowing of the wind. If there is a screeching of a car’s wheels, I may hear voices that sound as if they are coming from that screech.

Occasionally I have had visual hallucinations. One particularly vivid one was the face of a person in the sky. The face was the color of the sky, but seemed to have its features outlined in wispy black lines. Other visual hallucinations have come in the form of clouds or shadows. It seems like these things can sometimes assume the form of something familiar, and everyone has had the experience of looking at clouds and thinking about what objects they resemble. With my hallucinations, however, the clouds would form objects in their full detail. For example, if I thought a cloud looked like a chicken, I would be able to see its beak, wings, feet, and everything else, rather than just a billowy shape.

Other hallucinations I have had involved reflections in windows, and views in colored ski goggles. I have seen a reflection of my room that has looked like a bucket of paintbrushes, or like an elephant sitting in a easy chair. These are strange things, I know, and to me it seems like my brain may have substituted its own imagination for reality.

The negative aspect of having hallucinations is that hallucinations can interfere with ordinary life. If you are hearing voices while having a conversation with someone, it can be difficult to focus. Also, the voices may be trying to tell you what to say or what not to say, causing your responses to be strange or out of place. Some people say they experience a kind of faraway stare when talking to a person who is psychotic. In my experience, the psychotic person could be listening to their own voices instead of focusing on the conversation at hand.

In any case, I hope I have described hallucinations (or at least my own) in way that an individual without a psychotic disorder can understand.