Hallucinations of the inner body

One of the least understood symptoms in psychosis are hallucinations called cenesthesias. These are ‘inner body’ feelings that often don’t correspond to any known or even possible bodily experiences.

A team from Japan has just published a study of patients who experience cenesthesias in the mouth. Here are a selection of the hallucinations:

“Feels like gas is blowing up in his mouth”, “feels like something is struggling, as if there is an animal in his mouth”

“Feels the presence of wires in the mandibular incisors [front teeth in the jaw] when removing dentures”

“Feels something sticky coming up rapidly in her mouth”, “feels like a membrane is covering and squeezing her incisors”

“Feels like trash is coming up behind her dentures”, “feels sliminess in her mouth”

“Feels slimy saliva”, “feels like her teeth are made of iron and is sore from chewing”

The study used a type of brain scanning called SPECT (essentially, injecting your brain with radioactive glucose, seeing where it ends up with a gamma camera) to look at the balance of activity over the two hemispheres when the patients were just resting.

They found that activity was relatively greater in the right hemisphere, which is a common, but not very reliable finding in psychosis research.

Link to locked study.

13 thoughts on “Hallucinations of the inner body”

  1. I’ve seen a theory that a lot of what is diagnosed as psychosis is actually sensory (rather than mental or emotional) derangement. Sorry, but I can’t remember the source.

    1. I’ve actually heard the “sensory derangement” theory applied to anorexia and bulimia. Which is to say, the sufferer isn’t “crazy” for thinking that, at 5’9″ and 80 lbs, they’re “grossly obese”, it’s actually some sort of visual processing impairment. When they look at themselves in the mirror, they don’t actually see someone who’s skin and bones. It’s like looking in a funhouse mirror–they literally “see” (in their mind’s eye, at least) someone who is grossly obese, and that’s why they keep starving themselves and/or throwing up after every meal.

      1. I’ve heard that isn’t necessarily true– at least some anorexics know they’re thin, but their attention keeps going to whatever flesh they’ve got, and they’re convinced that even a little flesh is revoltingly fat.

        This might be like something I’ve noticed in dreams, where it’s obvious to me that something is wonderful or terrible or has a backstory– except that what’s actually going on (as far as I can tell) is that my mind has hung a tag on a dream element.

    2. That’s a relief to know my experiences with Psychosis [at least according to some source well enough for someone to refer to with some level of credibility in reason] doesn’t deem me deranged.. well!

  2. I don’t necessarily believe that the universal cause for eating disorders is a visual processing impairment. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it holds true for at least some people who have an eating disorder.

  3. This has a name!?

    I sometimes feel the sensation that large bony appendages are coming out of my throat / mouth… This was the source of many horrifying nightmares as I’m sure you can imagine – but I’ve felt it while awake as well, many times.

    And occasionally I’ll feel as though my lower jaw were *way* larger than it really is… What’s up with that?

    1. Erik Forbes, Sir.. might you also experience these sensations in conjunction with any similar thought pattern that you could believe led to it [buying a pack of pistachios, seemingly baseless fears however small ..perhaps when you had freak out seeing a cockroach which then led to your sensory experience simulating as aspect of fear previously experienced but not overcomed in a dream.. etc.]?

      I have them, too, and was diagnosed with Psychosis and Schizophrenia in 2007.

  4. It’s interesting to me that all the examples have to do with the mouth — I have recurring dreams in which my mouth is full of some kind of pebbly / waxy substance. In a way, they are just anxiety dreams: I have to give a talk, or converse socially at a party or something, and I just can’t. There is always an explanation in the dream (usually that for some reason I decided to chew a huge amount of gum, and now can’t spit it out — whatever the “backstory” in the dream I always berate myself, what was I thinking chewing all the gum before a big public talk etc.).

    But anyway — are all the examples (and the one above, from Erik Forbes) oral or are there other variations?

  5. A really interesting post and paper, thank you!

    Can’t help being puzzled though. The abstract states: “The quantitative analysis confirmed that the regional cerebral blood flow values on the right side were significantly larger than those on the left side for most areas of the brain in the patients.”

    And yet all these patients have is cenesthopathy? Seems like a huge disconnect between brain and mind features, if so.

  6. Cool! I thought I was alone in this. Mine is so creepy that when I am having my teeth cleaned and they are scraping away at the incisors, it hurts deeply and completely in a primal satisfying way. It is as if an itch is finally being scratched.

    Years of psych meds have caused me to grind my teeth so I have little enamel left. Hallucinations seem real to me and are most often tactile or with a hyper sense of smell. With my teeth and jaw, they seem to just morph. If anyone remembers the movie “Werewolf of London”, this is a pretty close depiction of how it seems. I know this is bizarre so I keep it to myself. Interesting to think other folks have similar delusions.

  7. Hi, I’m a 45-year old ALS-patient from Holland. Since I stopped eating (food is now injected via a little hose, directly into my stumach) I’ve been experiencing the strangest feelings in my mouth: lots of short, pointless pensils, a paper box, an ongoing, firm, stream, straight, narrow salaivel?..differs nearly every day.
    And there s nothing to be seen.
    Drives me crazy! Nearly 6 months now.
    Anuone an idea?

  8. My mom is 87 and has Alzheimer’s. She has been having this problem for the past 2-3 month’s. She says she feels like she has hair, paper, pencil point or cardboard in her mouth.

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