Refactoring is often mentioned in the context of working with legacy code. Maybe you like to define legacy code as code without tests, or code you don't understand, or even as code you didn't write. Very often, legacy code is code you just don't like, whether you wrote it, or someone else did. Since the code was written the team has introduced new and better ways of doing things. Unfortunately, half of the code base still uses the old and deprecated way...
The need to be consistent is very strong in me, and from what I see, in many developers. And so we get started and improve every bit of code everywhere. We become frustrated if we don't "get" time for this work from our managers ("they don't get it"), or if we can't finish it; look at all this code, it's so outdated!
A common case of refactoring-gone-wrong is when refactoring becomes a large project in a branch that can never be merged because the refactoring project is never completed. The refactoring project is considered a separate project, and soon starts to feel like "The Big Rewrite That Always Fails" from programming literature.
The work happens in a branch because people actually fear the change. They want to see it before they believe it, and review every single part of it before it can be merged. This process may take months. Meanwhile, other developers keep making changes to the main branch, so merging the refactoring branch is going to be a very tedious, if not dangerous thing to do. A task that, on its own, can cause the failure of the refactoring project itself.