Studies exploring the perceptions of patients whose lives are maintained by mechanical ventilation highlight the stressful nature of this type of experience. The objective of this meta-synthesis study was to describe the nature of the experience of adult ventilator-dependent patients. A systematic literature search of English and Chinese databases was undertaken, covering the period between 1970 and 2012. Qualitative research findings were extracted and pooled using the Joanna Briggs Institute Qualitative Assessment and Review Instrument. A total of 1004 papers were identified from various database and hand searches. Nineteen papers were critically appraised and 16 met inclusion criteria. Five meta-synthesis themes emerged from the analysis: (1) the feelings of fear due to being dependent on a ventilator and the loss of control of life; (2) disconnection with reality; (3) impaired embodiment; (4) construction of coping patterns; (5) trust and caring relationship. Suggested implications for practice include enhancing the trust relationship with health professionals, as well as nursing actions throughout the suction procedure relating to release of patient's psychological distress and empowering their resilience factors.