A strange loop is a hierarchy of levels, each of which is linked to at least one other by some type of relationship. A strange loop hierarchy is "tangled" (Hofstadter refers to this as a "heterarchy"), in that there is no well defined highest or lowest level; moving through the levels, one eventually returns to the starting point, i.e., the original level. Examples of strange loops that Hofstadter offers include: many of the works of M. C. Escher, the information flow network between DNA and enzymes through protein synthesis and DNA replication, and self-referential Gödelian statements in formal systems.
In I Am a Strange Loop, Hofstadter defines strange loops as follows:
And yet when I say "strange loop", I have something else in mind — a less concrete, more elusive notion. What I mean by "strange loop" is — here goes a first stab, anyway — not a physical circuit but an abstract loop in which, in the series of stages that constitute the cycling-around, there is a shift from one level of abstraction (or structure) to another, which feels like an upwards movement in a hierarchy, and yet somehow the successive "upward" shifts turn out to give rise to a closed cycle. That is, despite one's sense of departing ever further from one's origin, one winds up, to one's shock, exactly where one had started out. In short, a strange loop is a paradoxical level-crossing feedback loop. (pp. 101-102)