Phenomenology of hallucinations, illusions, and delusions as part of seizure semiology

Epilepsy Behav. 2010 May;18(1-2):13-23. doi: 10.1016/j.yebeh.2010.03.006. Epub 2010 May 18.


In partial epilepsy, a localized hypersynchronous neuronal discharge evolving into a partial seizure affecting a particular cortical region or cerebral subsystem can give rise to subjective symptoms, which are perceived by the affected person only, that is, ictal hallucinations, illusions, or delusions. When forming the beginning of a symptom sequence leading to impairment of consciousness and/or a classic generalized seizure, these phenomena are referred to as an epileptic aura, but they also occur in isolation. They often manifest in the fully awake state, as part of simple partial seizures, but they also can be associated to different degrees of disturbed consciousness. Initial ictal symptoms often are closely related to the physiological functions of the cortical circuit involved and, therefore, can provide localizing information. When brain regions related to sensory integration are involved, the seizure discharge can cause specific kinds of hallucinations, for example, visual, auditory, gustatory, olfactory, and cutaneous sensory sensations. In addition to these elementary sensory perceptions, quite complex hallucinations related to a partial seizure can arise, for example, perception of visual scenes or hearing music. By involving psychic and emotional spheres of human perception, many seizures also give rise to hallucinatory emotional states (e.g., fear or happiness) or even more complex hallucinations (e.g., visuospatial phenomena), illusions (e.g., déjà vu, out-of-body experience), or delusional beliefs (e.g., identity change) that often are not easily recognized as epileptic. Here we suggest a classification into elementary sensory, complex sensory, and complex integratory seizure symptoms. Epileptic hallucinations, illusions, and delusions shine interesting light on the physiology and functional anatomy of brain regions involved and their functions in the human being. This article, in which 10 cases are described, introduces the fascinating phenomenology of subjective seizure symptoms.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Delusions / complications
  • Delusions / physiopathology*
  • Delusions / psychology
  • Epilepsy / complications
  • Epilepsy / physiopathology
  • Epilepsy / psychology
  • Hallucinations / complications
  • Hallucinations / physiopathology*
  • Hallucinations / psychology
  • Humans
  • Illusions / psychology
  • Seizures / complications
  • Seizures / physiopathology*
  • Seizures / psychology