To promote our sensory differences—and by extension a greater understanding of autism—we are asking a weekly question on Sunday about your sensory experience. We are calling it Sensory Sunday. Here is last week’s question:
This week’s sensory question is:
What is a sensory experience you’ve had
that most people (probably) don’t experience?
And a follow-up question: do you think this sensory experience is on account of your autism, or something else?
My sensory experience
I don’t think I’ve had any unusual sensory experiences due to my autism. I’ve experienced psilocybin-induced synesthesia where I could see music and smell the color orange, I’ve experienced mescaline-induced ego death, and I’ve experienced salvinorin A-induced warping of reality that was truly nightmarish and profound to a degree I can barely put it into words (though I might give it a try in a future post). So I’ve had pretty unique sensory experiences, but none that I can think of that stem from my autism.
There is one unusual sensory experience I have now and then though, which is seeing sparks. Sometimes sparks will start raining in front of me at a height of 3–4 meters or so. The sparks look quite like fireflies, and may move about as they sort of fall down like a sparkly waterfall rendered with very few particles (I see only about 20 sparks at a time). The whole experience lasts maybe 10 seconds. It’s quite a pleasant experience, as the sparks look beautiful. They are only a minor distraction, and I am aware they are not real.
I don’t know why I experience these sparks, but I don’t suppose I can attribute it to autism. It may just correlate with something that relates to autism though. I’m thinking of it stemming from certain cross-connectivity in the brain, where the activation of some neurons activate neurons in other regions of the brain. This is also one of the proposed mechanisms for synesthesia, and is also the cause of seizures in epilepsy.
Incidentally, I used to have pyknolepsy or childhood absence epilepsy, where 40 times per hour my consciousness or awareness would drop for a moment as I would roll my eyes. Supposedly the condition goes away, which it mostly did. But at the same time, I must still have some brain wiring or brain connectivity reminiscent of epilepsy. I don’t handly flashy images and videos very well, and one time at a techno club the strobe light paralyzed me, and I had to ask a friend to get me out of the crowd.
None of this probably has anything to do with autism directly. However, the autistic brain has more short-range connections and sometimes cross-connectivity, which can result in synesthesia and epilepsy. For that reason, both conditions often co-occur with autism; synesthesia occurs in 19% of autistic people,Is synaesthesia more common in autism? and 5–38% of autistic children have some form of epilepsy (16% of which grow out of it).EEG features and epilepsy in patients with autismEpilepsy in autismEpilepsy in young adults with autism: a prospective population-based follow-up study of 120 individuals diagnosed in childhood
Waking up inside you
Someone just reminded me of another bizarre experience I’ve had. I woke up inside someone else! It was as if I was in the center of this person’s body, with their muscles and skin wrapped around me, and I was looking through the eyelids of this other person—wearing their face like a mask.
Then I woke up again. I thought I was finally genuinely awake, but no. I woke up a third time! This time I woke up with sleep paralysis. I couldn’t move or breathe. I panicked by couldn’t do anything. I concentrated strongly on moving my fingers, which I managed to do with a lot of effort. When I could move my fingers, finally my body became animated and I could breathe again.
It’s bizarre waking up from nested dreams like that. It reminded me of Inception. I guess the waking up inside someone else bit is something only my mind could dream up though. It’s amazing how the transition from sleeping to waking up can cause such strange experiences.
And what reminded me of this experience was someone on Facebook commenting that they woken up from 7 layers of nested dreams! Wow.
Natalie’s sensory experience
My sensory experiences are sporadic, but Natalie has a sensory experience that never stops. At all times, she has six screens in front of her, each with a different scene playing out on them. It could be a memory, or something she imagines. I don’t share her experience, but I imagine it’s a lot like having different tabs open in your browser. The screens play out different things that relate to whatever she is doing. I can’t imagine how much she is processing all the time. My sensory experience seems a lot more… tranquil.
Except of course when I am experiencing sensory overload.
What is a unique sensory experience you have or had?
To explore the whole Sensory Sunday series,
have a look at the Sensory Sunday index: