Understanding visual hallucinations: A new synthesis

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2023 Jul:150:105208. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2023.105208. Epub 2023 May 2.


Despite decades of research, we do not definitively know how people sometimes see things that are not there. Eight models of complex visual hallucinations have been published since 2000, including Deafferentation, Reality Monitoring, Perception and Attention Deficit, Activation, Input, and Modulation, Hodological, Attentional Networks, Active Inference, and Thalamocortical Dysrhythmia Default Mode Network Decoupling. Each was derived from different understandings of brain organisation. To reduce this variability, representatives from each research group agreed an integrated Visual Hallucination Framework that is consistent with current theories of veridical and hallucinatory vision. The Framework delineates cognitive systems relevant to hallucinations. It allows a systematic, consistent, investigation of relationships between the phenomenology of visual hallucinations and changes in underpinning cognitive structures. The episodic nature of hallucinations highlights separate factors associated with the onset, persistence, and end of specific hallucinations suggesting a complex relationship between state and trait markers of hallucination risk. In addition to a harmonised interpretation of existing evidence, the Framework highlights new avenues of research, and potentially, new approaches to treating distressing hallucinations.

Keywords: Anomalous experiences; Charles Bonnet syndrome; Eye disease; Lewy body; Misperception; Psychosis; Vision; Visual hallucination; Visual perception.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity*
  • Brain
  • Hallucinations* / psychology
  • Humans