The phenomenology and impact of hallucinations concerning the deceased

Evelyn Elsaesser, Chris Roe, Callum E. Cooper, David Lorimer

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticlepeer-review


Background People who have suffered the loss of a loved one may subsequently report sensory experiences of the deceased (termed ‘after-death communications’, or ADCs). Such encounters are common and can be a source of comfort to the bereaved. Nevertheless, there has been limited empirical investigation of this phenomenon, and consequently mental health professionals feel ill-equipped to support those who disclose them. Aims To map the phenomenology of ADCs, and identify covariates and effects upon the recipient. Method We conducted an online mixed-methods survey comprising 194 items about all aspects of ADCs. A purposive sample of 1004 respondents across three language groups (English, French and Spanish) completed the survey. Results The most common form of ADC was during sleep, but large numbers of cases involved sensory modalities of touch, sight, hearing, smell and sense of presence that externalised the phenomenon for the recipient. Variations in incidence with participant gender and language group suggest a psychosocial component. ADCs were typically regarded by the participant as deeply meaningful and comforting. Respondents reported significant increases in their sense of spirituality, but not religiosity. Conclusions ADCs are a common feature of bereavement that occur unexpectedly, and are independent of any underlying pathology or psychological need. For the person experiencing the hallucination, they are important and meaningful events that they interpret in terms of continuing bonds with the deceased. This adaptive outcome may be stymied where mental health professionals trivialise or pathologise disclosures about ADCs.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages10
JournalBJPsych Open
Issue number5
Early online date16 Aug 2021
Publication statusPublished - 16 Aug 2021


  • hallucinations
  • deceased
  • psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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