Torquay defender Reuben Hazell headed a last minute equaliser to make up for a costly mistake.
Promotion-chasing Torquay were on course for a sixth home win after Martin Gritton sidefooted his seventh goal of the season in the 52nd minute.
But Hazell then handed Rochdale an easy equaliser, miscueing with an intended clearance, and presenting striker Paul Connor with a simple chance.
Connor duly volleyed home in the 74th minute.
Only four minutes later Dale took the lead when skipper Gareth Griffiths headed home Matt Doughty's corner at the near post.
Dale suddenly thought their eight-match winless run in the league was about to end. But two minutes from time Griffiths was sent off for his second yellow card.
And in the 90th minute Hazell powered his way through a crowded goalmouth to score with a close-range header from Tony Bedeau's right-wing cross.
It still was not quite over, as Rochdale player-manager Paul Simpson, who had dropped himself, set on substitute Kevin Townson in stoppage time.
And seconds from the finish it took a fine save by former Rochdale keeper Keith Welch to keep out Townson's left-foot curler as it headed for the top left-hand corner.
Torquay have thrown away winning leads in their last three matches, drawing all three.
Head coach Leroy Rosenior said: "We keep taking one step forward and two back. I'm fed up watching it, seeing it and waiting for it to happen.
"We just let them back into the game. I know we have a lot of young lads in the side, but they really need to grow up. We should be winning those games 2-0.
"We can't be satisfied with where we are now. We need to push on." Simpson may be reported by referee Peter Walton for his protests at the end of the match.
The normally placid Simpson was furious as some of Mr Walton's decisions, not least the first booking for Griffiths, which cost him so dear later.
Simpson confirmed that he was unhappy with the performance of all three officials and added: "The players are gutted. I'm still fuming at the way we've lost two points. I really feel we've been robbed.
"We've come here against a side fourth in the league and we've been the best team.
"I thought we went 1-0 down against the run of play, but the players showed some great character to come back."