Spiritual ecstasy is an altered state of consciousness characterized by greatly reduced external awareness and expanded interior mental and spiritual awareness which is frequently accompanied by hallucinations and emotional/intuitive (and sometimes physical) euphoria. Although the experience is usually brief in physical time, there are records of such experiences lasting several days or even more, and of recurring experiences of ecstasy during one's lifetime. Subjective perception of time, space and/or self may strongly change or disappear during ecstasy.
The adjective "religious" means that the experience occurs in connection with religious activities or is interpreted in context of a religion. Marghanita Laski writes in her study "Ecstasy in Religious and Secular Experiences," first published in 1961:
"Epithets are very often applied to mystical experiences including ecstasies without, apparently, any clear idea about the distinctions that are being made. Thus we find experiences given such names as nature, religious, aesthetic, neo-platonic, sexual etc. experiences, where in some cases the name seems to derive from trigger, sometimes from the overbelief, sometimes from the known standing and beliefs of the mystic, and sometimes, though rarely, from the nature of the experience."
Ecstasies enjoyed by accepted religious mystics are usually called religious experiences no matter what the nature of the ecstasy or the trigger inducing it.
Spiritual ecstasy can be distinguished from spirit possession and hypnosis in that ecstasy is not accompanied by a loss of interior consciousness or will on the part of the subject experiencing it. Rather, the person experiencing ecstasy notices a dramatic heightening of awareness of the spiritual, and a total concentration of the will on it. If the ecstatic state comes about slowly, the subject may notice changes in his or her physiological responses. But, once brought into complete ecstasy, there is ordinarily no or very little external awareness of the physical state of the subject or the surroundings. Some external awareness remains in a partial religious ecstasy. Intense fear may accompany the initial stage of being drawn into ecstasy. Different religious teachings distinguish and describe several stages or forms of ecstasy