The phenomenology and impact of hallucinations concerning the deceased

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

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticlepeer-review


Objective: To survey people who have experienced hallucinations of deceased persons, so as
to map the phenomenology of these encounters, and identify their covariates and impacts
upon the experiment, particularly in relation to recovery from the loss of a loved one.

Design: Online mixed methods survey with purposive sampling

Participants: 1004 respondents across three language groups (English, French, Spanish)
completed the survey.

Results: Women were more likely than men to report ADCs (84.9% versus 14.5%). 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 served to externalise the
phenomenon for the percipient. Variations in incidence with participant sex and language
group suggest a psychosocial component. ADCs were typically regarded by the experiment as
deeply meaningful, bringing comfort and emotional healing. Respondents reported significant
increases in their sense of spirituality but not religiosity.

Conclusions: ADCs are a common feature of bereavement. They often occur unexpectedly,
and their likelihood seems independent of any underlying pathology or psychological need.
For the experiment they are important and meaningful events that they make sense of in terms
of continuing bonds with the deceased. This adaptive outcome may be stymied where
experiments encounter mental health professionals who trivialise or pathologise disclosures
about ADCs.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages10
JournalBJPsych Open
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 8 Jun 2021


  • hallucinations
  • deceased
  • psychology


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