At times people feel that someone has touched them from behind and turn back, only to find that there is no one around. Similarly, sometimes people complain of feeling something crawling on their skin, but go to see there is nothing on their body. (In medical terminology, the sensation wherein it feels as if insects are crawling on or under the skin is referred to as formication.) There also exist cases wherein a person who has opted for limb amputation can sense the presence of limb even though it is amputated. All these are examples of tactile hallucinations, also known as somatic hallucinations, wherein the person's sense of touch comes into play and makes him perceive something which doesn't exist in the actual sense.
What is Tactile Hallucination?
In psychology, hallucination is defined as a perception in a conscious state of mind in the absence of some external stimuli. The concept is broadly categorized into various types on the basis of sensory route that it is related to, and tactile hallucination happens to be one of them. As its name suggests, it is a false perception involving the sense of touch, wherein the said person tends to experience movement or sensation as if something is crawling on his body (or feels the presence of a limb which has been amputated.) Other than sensing an amputated limb (i.e. phantom limb) and the pain associated with it or some movement on the skin, the person may also sense something beneath his skin or electricity running through his body, which are nothing but the symptoms of tactile hallucination. This is not much different from auditory hallucination, wherein the person hears sounds, or visual hallucination, wherein he sees things, which don't exist in the first place.
What Causes Tactile Hallucination?
In the lengthy list of tactile hallucinations causes, one of the most prominent cause is drug abuse. Studies have revealed that drugs like methamphetamine, amphetamine and cocaine have the tendency to affect certain portion of the brain, and in turn, trigger visual and tactile hallucinations wherein the person can see and feel things which don't exist. Even drugs like phencyclidine (PCP) - which block the signals to the brain, is considered to be a hallucinogen which can cause some people to hallucinate. Some cases of tactile hallucinations are also hypnagogic i.e. related to the drowsiness that precedes sleep, and hypnopompic i.e. related to the state of consciousness which exists just before you are fully awake. Those who suffer from narcolepsy enter the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) state directly after they sleep - instead of getting into deep sleep first and then entering the REM state, and this irregular pattern of sleep makes them vulnerable to such hallucinations.
Once the condition is diagnosed, the treatment of the same will be determined on the basis of what the underlying cause for this hallucination is. If substance abuse is the underlying cause, doing away with the same can solve the problem with ease. However, if the underlying cause is some psychological disorder, the person may need counseling from a certified psychologist or psychiatrist to make sure that the same is treated at the earliest. In case of phantom limb pain, the person may be prescribed some painkillers to ease the discomfort that he is being subjected to.
Note: It may turn out that certain sensations - like burning or itching, that one tends to dismiss as tactile hallucinations may eventually turn out to be the symptom of some underlying condition with the tendency to snowball into major problem. In order to avoid any complication, one has to opt for a proper diagnosis of the same - especially when the sensation in question is recurring.