The occurrence of sudden qualitative changes of chaotic dynamics as a parameter is varied is discussed and illustrated. It is shown that such changes may result from the collision of an unstable periodic orbit and a coexisting chaotic attractor. We call such collisions crises. Phenomena associated with crises include sudden changes in the size of chaotic attractors, sudden appearances of chaotic attractors (a possible route to chaos), and sudden destructions of chaotic attractors and their basins. This paper presents examples illustrating that crisis events are prevalent in many circumstances and systems, and that, just past a crisis, certain characteristic statistical behavior (whose type depends on the type of crisis) occurs. In particular the phenomenon of chaotic transients is investigated. The examples discussed illustrate crises in progressively higher dimension and include the one-dimensional quadratic map, the (two-dimensional) Hénon map, systems of ordinary differential equations in three dimensions and a three-dimensional map. In the case of our study of the three-dimensional map a new route to chaos is proposed which is possible only in invertible maps or flows of dimension at least three or four, respectively. Based on the examples presented the following conjecture is proposed: almost all sudden changes in the size of chaotic attractors and almost all sudden destruction or creations of chaotic attractors and their basins are due to crises.