I have intermittent episodes where I see brief glimpses of people (and occasional animals), mostly out of the corner of my eye. I do not recognize any of these figures and upon turning my full attention to the illusions they are not there. This occurred at least once a week or sometimes once a day for a few months and then stopped. During this time, however, I would misinterpret other objects, such as a mailbox or post as a humanoid figure out of the corner of my eye. I believe stress does play a factor and I am on medication for anxiety (clonazepam and Lexapro). Also, I do have poor vision and wear corrective lenses. I was diagnosed with depression when I was a teenager, though the reason was symptomatic and once removed from the cause, all symptoms of depression vanished. On a related note, I believe, are at least four episodes of autoscopy. One was probably induced by Ketamine when I was young and getting stitches and two others were probably induced by Midazolam during a hernia operation and again when wisdom teeth were removed. Another was probably induced by panic. I’ve also had three incidents of what I assume can be described as hypnogogic hallucinations where I have woken in the middle of the night to see people standing in my doorway, though paralysis was not a factor in these episodes. There has not been any auditory, tactile, etc. hallucinations. Though I believe science and religion are mutually exclusive, one in three people believe in ghosts and I do believe that consciousness does survive physical death, I don’t necessarily believe I am seeing dead people. Are these illusions a sign of mental illness or some sort of neurological misfiring caused by stress or anxiety? I am of course afraid it indicates that my mental status is deteriorating. This is why I am asking this question online; for anonymity. On a final note, my father has been diagnosed with a tragic combination of long term exposure to Agent Orange and Gulf War syndrome.

A: My sympathy for your father’s condition. I hope he and your family are getting the support you all need to help him manage.

As for your experiences: The first thing I would investigate if we were talking is your sleep architecture. Insufficient sleep or interrupted sleep can cause the experiences you are reporting. If sleep isn’t an issue, I’d suggest you see a neurologist to make sure that you aren’t having minor seizures or other nervous system issues. Finally, I’d want to re-evaluate you for depression and anxiety and see whether your medication needs to be adjusted.

You seem to be an emotionally sensitive person who would be more likely than most to have heightened sensory experiences. Do see the appropriate professionals to sort this out. It could be that your system is giving you signals that there is something amiss that needs attention.

I wish you and your dad well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 27 Oct 2011

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2011). I Have Brief Transient Complex Visual Hallucinations of People. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 19, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2011/10/27/i-have-brief-transient-complex-visual-hallucinations-of-people/