I used to think it was just me, a quirk I had. This weird thing, where if you have been somewhere away from a familiar environment such as home, for any length of time, upon your return it’s like the place you visited is overlaid like a ghost shadow, an imprint over the real-world view of the present. Having been on long motorway journeys, I can close my eyes and still see the motorway from the same eye-view as I had whilst sitting in the car and the sensation of driving endlessly along was still there, along with this ghost shadow of the image, even when my eyes are open.
It’s like your body has returned, but your mind is still at where you were before, it hasn’t properly rejoined your body yet, there’s a lag. Until it does, you don’t feel quite right. You feel sort of, not quite fully immersed in the present reality you are in. And your brain is trying to catch up.
I then found out both my autistic children have it too. And it can make you feel really weird, doolally is our favourite word to describe it. It can make you feel strange for the whole remainder of the day, like you don’t feel your normal self, slightly dissociated.
So I thought this must be an autistic ‘thing’. And then I remembered having read somewhere, that autistics have a disconnect between their physical body and their soul. It was actually something I read, either about rainbow/crystal/indigo children (the spiritual explanations for individuals with autism or ADHD), or something the Asperger’s author William Stillman said about the soul and autism being out of alignment (and I will update this post to state where, if I get to the bottom of the matter!).
And having a search on the matter, there is actually science about this too:
“Autism may also involve a disconnect between the brain and its external environment—an inability of the brain to change properly based on input from the outside world.”
“If the problem of autistic spectrum disorder is primarily one of desynchronization and ineffective interhemispheric communication, then the best way to address the symptoms is to improve coordination between areas of the brain.”
“The corpus collosum is an area in the middle of the brain that links the left and right sides for communication between the two hemispheres. It is smaller in children with autism (Harden, Minshew, Keshavan 2000; Piven, Bailey, Ranson, Arndt 1997) and the neuronal activity that occurs between the two hemispheres of the brain is erratic and poorly connected.”
When you also consider the amount of autistics with sensory difficulties, which involve the various parts of the brain, brain stem and autonomic system, it also makes sense that there is this type of brain disconnect. After all, movement and sensations are associated with the place you experienced them. Having sensory issues would make someone more inclined to find it difficult to shake off the feeling of being in a moving car, so why not the image of the place you were at too. My youngest child has Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and has always had trouble going on playground equipment that spins, she can be left for hours afterwards with what she calls “a spinning headache”. So the sensations and clearly the visuals associated with going somewhere, don’t leave autistics so easily.
Sensory Processing in Autism: A Review of Neurophysiologic Findings
“Local motion processing studies show differences in second order (texture-defined) motion processing but intact first-order (luminance-defined) processing, suggesting difficulties with effective integration of incoming stimuli that is magnified with more nuanced tasks (36).”
When visual stimuli is not well integrated, it makes a lot of sense that the brain would need additional processing time to unscramble it, which would account for something akin to perpetual flashbacks for a period of time, hence the ghosting and feeling of still being where you had previously been.
So I am glad to have made sense of and found explanation for this quite ‘freaky’ sensation. Another anomaly, possibly not discussed, that is part of the autistic experience. Something an autistic child might express to their parent, as not wanting to go out to avoid this sensation, being upset having gone out or a statement “I don’t want to go, it makes me feel weird!”