In this section we describe some common unusual experiences in a bit more detail.
There are four main categories of unusual experiences:
1) Unusual perceptions
2) Unusual thoughts and beliefs
3) Feeling disconnected from the world and other people
4) Having a feeling that things have somehow changed
Expand each tab to learn more about the different types of unusual experiences.
Many people seek help because of seeing or hearing things that others do not. These experiences are sometimes called “hallucinations” and they can be upsetting or make life more difficult.
Hearing. Many people have an experience of hearing one or more voices. Some people’s voices call their name or talk directly to them. People who are distressed by these experiences sometimes say that their voices make hurtful comments or tell them what to do. Other people have voices that speak between themselves and seem to say nasty things about them to each other. Some people have voices they recognise, while others do not recognise the voices. Some people can hear their voices clearly, while for others the experience might be really unclear. Everyone’s experience of hearing voices is personal. As well as voices, people might also hear a range of different sounds that others cannot.
In the early days of hearing voices, it wasn’t like a random intrusive thought. It was quite shocking and really prevalent… The voices were clear enough but I knew were in my head—it didn’t sound like something else on the other side of the room - OASIS service user
Seeing. Some people see things that others do not. This might be flashes of light or patterns that are difficult to make sense of, or they could be people, animals, or almost anything else. Sometimes people have the experience of real objects changing shape or colour, or moving with no explanation.
Smell, taste and touch. Some people have the experience of strange smells or tastes that don’t fit with what they are eating, or different sensations in their bodies - like vibration, numbness or itching that is hard to explain.
Normally I’d hear my name being called, or random noises like honking or distant screams of women… I saw hallucinations of dark entities coming out of my cupboard and seeing a rather persistent dog in my vision, which I found to be an unnerving experience (the funny thing is I love dogs!). I felt like I had bugs crawling up my neck - OASIS service user
Many people are also troubled by unusual ideas and thoughts, which friends or family might find hard to believe. It’s frustrating when we have beliefs that seem not to be accepted by the people around us. Unusual beliefs can also be confusing, worrying and upsetting.
I felt scared (paranoid) that I was being followed, that people were looking at me and judging me - OASIS service user
The impact often depends on what the idea is, and how sure we are that it is true. Some common unusual beliefs that can be upsetting or get in the way of our lives are:
I couldn’t do basic things anymore like take the dog out or anything, because I was so paranoid thinking that people were coming after me, and I broke down in front of my mum one day and told her - Paul (1)
A common unusual experience is the feeling of disconnection. For example, you might have started spending a lot of time on your own, and feeling very separate from the world around you.
Tasks that you used to find quite simple may now be really hard, like work or socialising. This can often lead people to withdraw and become isolated. Some activities that you used to enjoy may now seem dull or pointless. Many people also start to avoid others if communication begins to feel more difficult.
This experience can happen alongside other unusual experiences, but can also be a feature of common mental health problems like anxiety or depression.
I was just sitting thinking just em maybe in my room or something just sitting thinking for maybe an hour or two hours just em you know, you don’t you know you’re just so kind of distant from everything, you’re in your own wee world sort of thing - Steven (1)
A common experience is the sense that the world around you has changed in some way. For example, the feeling that places or people you know well now seem strange or unfamiliar.
Some people also start to feel detached from their own identities. You might just not quite feel like yourself, or that your body is changing in some way. These experiences can be really difficult to put into words and explain to others.
I am no longer myself (. . .) I feel strange, I am no longer in my body, it is someone else; I sense my body but it is far away, some other place. Here are my legs, my hands, I can also feel my head, but cannot find it again. I hear my voice when I speak, but the voice seems to originate from some other place.(2)
It’s really common to struggle with expressing these experiences, and many people find themselves feeling puzzled or scared.
For the first time in a long time I felt I didn’t understand myself. Something’s going on and I’m not sure of myself: is this how I am now? I felt uncertain - OASIS service user