White wolf drinking water by Anonymous
This animation serves as an example of visual drifting in the style of texture flowing.

Drifting is the experience of the texture, shape, and general structure of objects and scenery appearing progressively warped, melted, and morphed across themselves. [1] [2] [3] These alterations gradually intensify as a person stares, but are temporary and will reset to normality the moment a person refocuses their gaze.

Drifting is often accompanied by other coinciding effects, such as texture liquidation and tracers. [3] [4] It is most commonly induced under the influence of moderate dosages of psychedelic compounds, such as LSD, psilocybin, and mescaline. However, it can also occur to a lesser extent under the influence of MDMA, cannabis, and certain dissociatives, such as DXM or 3-MeO-PCP.


The various subtypes of this visual effect are defined by the continuously changing direction, speed, and rhythm of the distortion. This results in a small variety of different manifestations which are defined and listed below:


Morphing can be described as a style of visual drifting that is completely disorganised and spontaneous in both its rhythm and direction. It results in objects and scenery appearing to progressively morph and warp in their size, shape, and configuration.


Breathing can be described as a style of visual drifting that results in objects and scenery appearing to steadily contract inwards and expand outwards in a consistent rhythm, similar to the lungs of a living organism.


Melting can be described as a style of visual drifting that results in the texture of objects and scenery appearing to completely or partially melt. It begins at lower intensities as a gradual distortion of an object's texture which causes them to subtly droop, wobble, and lose their structural integrity. This gradually increases until it becomes impossible to ignore as the lines, textures, and colour between solid objects melt into one another in an extremely fluid style.


Flowing can be described as a style of visual drifting that seems to occur almost exclusively on textures (particularly if they are highly detailed, complex, or rough in appearance). It results in the textures appearing to flow like a river in a seamless, looped animation. It is particularly common on wood grain or the fur of animals.

Levelling System

Regardless of sub-type, this effect is capable of manifesting itself across the 4 different levels of intensity described below:

Level 1


- Subtle Intensity

At the lowest level, visual drifting can be described as a wiggling of straight lines within the external environment. This occurs exclusively within a person’s peripheral vision and cannot be directly looked at.

Level 2


- Mild Intensity

At this level, visual drifting does not necessarily increase in intensity, but can now be directly looked at within a person’s central vision. This partially alters the appearance and form of shapes, objects, and sceneries within the external environment, causing them to subtly drift, bend, and morph.

Level 3


- Distinct Intensity

At this level, visual drifting becomes powerful enough to drastically alter and transform the shape of specific objects within a person’s external environment. If one stares at a fixed point and keeps their eyes relatively motionless, the effect can be powerful enough to render objects progressively unrecognisable from their original form.

Level 4


- Strong Intensity

At the highest level of visual drifting, the intensity becomes powerful enough to distort not just specific objects, but every single point of a person’s vision and the entirety of the external environment. This creates the appearance of an extremely smudged, warped, and blended mass of unrecognisable visual data.

Style Variations

The specific differences between each potential style of drifting can be broken down into the following variations and may occur independent of effect intensity:

Intricate vs Simple

Drifting can alter the external environment in a way that spreads out in many different complex directions and results in the original piece of sensory input becoming completely unrecognisable in appearance. Alternatively, it can be simplistic in nature consisting of simple warping, wiggling and bending even at high dosages of psychoactive substances.

Fast vs Slow

Drifting can manifest as alterations that progress at a sudden rate and produce fast movement in the visual field, or as slow and progressive changes.

Smooth vs Jittery

Drifting can manifest as a smooth, fluid, and seamless movement, or as jittery with an extremely low frame rate that moves in sudden and partial transitions.

Static vs Fleeting

Drifting can either freeze in its distorted position until one performs a double take, or can be extremely fleeting in nature, resetting as soon as a person tries to look directly at it.

Realistic vs Unrealistic

Drifting can either look convincingly natural and lifelike in its appearance and motion, or it can look extremely cartoon-like, exaggerated and unrealistic.


  1. Muthukumaraswamy, S. D., Carhart-Harris, R. L., Moran, R. J., Brookes, M. J., Williams, T. M., Errtizoe, D., ... & Feilding, A. (2013). Broadband cortical desynchronization underlies the human psychedelic state. Journal of Neuroscience, 33(38), 15171-15183. | https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2063-13.2013
  2. .Kleinman, J. E., Gillin, J. C., & Wyatt, R. J. (1977). A comparison of the phenomenology of hallucinogens and schizophrenia from some autobiographical accounts. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 3(4), 562-567. | https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/schbul/3.4.560
  3. [1][2]
    Bersani, F. S., Corazza, O., Albano, G., Valeriani, G., Santacroce, R., Bolzan Mariotti Posocco, F., ... & Schifano, F. (2014). 25C-NBOMe: preliminary data on pharmacology, psychoactive effects, and toxicity of a new potent and dangerous hallucinogenic drug. BioMed Research International, 2014. | https://dx.doi.org/10.1155%2F2014%2F734749
  4. Papoutsis, I., Nikolaou, P., Stefanidou, M., Spiliopoulou, C., & Athanaselis, S. (2015). 25B-NBOMe and its precursor 2C-B: modern trends and hidden dangers. Forensic Toxicology, 33(1), 4. | https://doi.org/10.1007/s11419-014-0242-9




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