Experiences of felt presence (FP) are well documented in neurology, neuropsychology and bereavement research, but systematic research in relation to psychopathology is limited. FP is a feature of sensorimotor disruption in psychosis, hypnagogic experiences, solo pursuits and spiritual encounters, but research comparing these phenomena remains rare. A comparative approach to the phenomenology of FP has the potential to identify shared and unique processes underlying the experience across these contexts, with implications for clinical understanding and intervention.
We present a mixed-methods analysis from three online surveys comparing FP across three diverse contexts: a population sample which included people with experience of psychosis and voice-hearing (study 1, N = 75), people with spiritual and spiritualist beliefs (study 2, N = 47) and practitioners of endurance/solo pursuits (study 3, N = 84). Participants were asked to provide descriptions of their FP experiences and completed questionnaires on FP frequency, hallucinatory experiences, dissociation, paranoia, social inner speech and sleep. Data and code for the study are available via OSF.
Hierarchical linear regression analysis indicated that FP frequency was predicted by a general tendency to experience hallucinations in all three studies, although paranoia and gender (female > male) were also significant predictors in sample 1. Qualitative analysis highlighted shared and diverging phenomenology of FP experiences across the three studies, including a role for immersive states in FP.
These data combine to provide the first picture of the potential shared mechanisms underlying different accounts of FP, supporting a unitary model of the experience.