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Longest Possible Total Hallucination? [ANSWERED]
Marilyn
cuddyclothes wrote in little_details
I'm coming down the home home stretch of my project.  My protagonist, a doctor, has been in this--for lack of a better word-alternative universe for almost a year.  He wakes up in our reality, and I'd like it to be the same amount of time.  He's convinced he's been hallucinating for months.  Is it possible to have a full blown hallucination for more than six hours?  And by full blown, every single detail, not auditory/oral or anything else.  One problem, of course, is what he has been doing in our reality all of this time? (I've had him missing the entire time but he awakes in the same bed he was sleeping in.)

At the beginning he has been released from a mental hospital--he might think he was back there this whole time.  I can fudge the timeline in a variety of ways.  What I can't find on Google or ask.com is how long can someone have an entire hallucination?  I find different types of hallucinations, sleep-diprivation hallucinations, etc.  But nothing on longevity and possible causes (a doctor would make assumptions about what is wrong with him and it might be mental illness or something else).

I hope this makes some kind of sense.  I need medical answers.  Thanks so much!

PS - what are all of those "retags"?  Will they be changed to something else?

ETA: Thank you!  I am going to rewrite my scenario drastically.  All of the answers were extremely enlightening!

In my opinion the only realistic place for such a hallucination would be a plain old dream, to be honest. No other hallucinations (delirium, drugs, schizophrenia, whatever) switch off the real reality so completely, don't they?

actually, full-sensory hallucinations can be caused by medication, sleep dep, and/or neurological issues. they're just much more rare than the typical "partial" hallucination.

From what I've gathered here, you're mostly right. Thanks!

So he wakes up in bed after a period of months? Unless you are explaining these things away with magic, he would need to be hospitalized and monitored in order to avoid starvation, dehydration, and bedsores. (This scenario happens in "Household Gods" by Harry Turtledove and Judith Tarr--after spending months living the life of a Roman woman in the second century CE, the modern main character wakes up in her own body again and finds she's been in a coma, a real medical mystery for the doctors.)

If he wakes up totally alone and in good health and then finds out he's missed a year, that would be pretty convincing evidence that what he went through was not a hallucination.

Ha! You're right! (Didn't think about that!)

yes, it's entirely possible to hallucinate for longer than that. sleep dep can work (but it needs to be enforced). the longest-lasting hallucinogen i know of is ibogaine, which can last up to about ten days (more typically four). there are brain diseases that can cause persistent particular hallucinations indefinitely. and hallucinations can take on very different subjective views of the passing of time than the outside clock.

(i'm the author of the hallucinogens chapter in a recent medical textbook on hallucination.)

Wow...inevitable joke question: was it fun?

unfortunate answer, mostly not :/

It might be worth looking into NDE. At least according to this article: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/12/seeing-god-in-the-third-millennium/266134/ , various states can induce "complete" hallucinations (i.e. a complete removal from reality - most you find in, say, schizophrenia or bipolar involve hearing voices or seeing things that aren't there, but don't exactly send you into a fantasy world with all sensory details being completely made up). Someone may actually *be* in the state for quite a while (esp. in a coma), or it may be over a very short period of time but subjectively *feel* like a long time. So this might be a better place to start than what would be considered a classic, psychiatric hallucination. (As while those can last for quite a long while, it's not really akin to being in a fantasy world.)

Thank you. I'm bipolar but my hallucinations have been "partial," i.e. plunged into it but not so that it was a complete physical reality. And sometimes I was aware that I was hallucinating (hearing voices, etc.).

Ah, glad it helps. I saw this post an was immediately reminded of the article. ;)

From what I've gathered, a lot of people are fully aware that they're hallucinating when they are (either due to a psychiatric illness, drugs, or sleep deprivation).

Oh, yes. I've read a doctor talking about how her patients report intense visual illusions that they don't believe in. Though that may be external evidence involved -- one told her he kept seeing ugly girls in plaid raincoats but his daughter drove them as if they weren't there, so they probably weren't real.

I think there's often external evidence. Either other people aren't seeing it, or the patient can place that X, Y, or Z shouldn't be happening given the context (i.e. it doesn't make sense that there'd be someone wearing a raincoat in the sun, so maybe it's a hallucination). A lot of people who experience psychoses are quite smart; they're well capable of working things out. (Esp. if they already know that they're prone to hallucinations. If I saw an ugly girl in a plaid raincoat on a sunny day, I'd probably believe that she was real. But I'm not prone to having visual hallucinations of ugly girls in plaid raincoats, either.)

The mind is a pretty amazing thing.

From my own (anecdotal!) experience, it's possible to have long term delusions, but they will be more mild. If you go with something like long-term derealization, it's completely possible to have it last six months, although a doctor and the people around him probably would get him help before then. Derealization is, breifly, the sense that reality isn't real, and you can react much the same way as you might delusionally believe that what you see is a hallucination, even when it isn't.

It's pretty much impossible to have a full-blown, multithematic system of hallucinations last for more than a few days, and it's guaranteed that after, say, a week, someone would notice and get your character to a hospital. The only way I can think of that it could work would be if he were a shut-in with grocery deliveries and no people who care about him.


Thanks so much! I'm rewriting my scenario entirely.

i don't think anyone knows what really happens in a catatonic state... that could be one answer, similar to the coma option but slightly different.


and by "what really happens" I meant from the pov of the person going through it, i.e. perhaps they are plunged into an alternate reality, although I've never heard reports of such a thing I haven't quite read up on it. I know some people definitely aren't like that, e.g. they can hear you and be done therapy with, but others might. just an idea.