A different world...altered perceptions in aspergers

Now, I have to admit before I start, I'm not sure how common some of this will be to other aspies. I know I'm not the only one who sometimes sees the world a different way but I have no idea if it's widespread or not. With that proviso out of the way, here we go.


To put it simply, I sometimes see the world in high definition. No, I don't mean I have a new TV or special glasses. I don't mean the kind of high definition you might get from illicit substances either. In my experience, aspies don't need illicit substances to have an altered perception of reality anyway.

Let me explain. At certain times, often under stress, I will see things differently. There are two main elements to it: a perception of richer depth, colour and meaning in the world or a perception of increased strangeness. We'll go with the strangeness first.

The best way to describe it is to imagine you're driving along a familiar road. Up ahead there is a bridge, with banks built up either side of it. There is a lamp-post on the bridge and the banks have been planted with shrubs and small trees. Your car has passed this way many times before, in rain and sun, dark and light. There is nothing new.

Yet, today, there is something new. As you pass under the bridge, the light catches the edge of the tree closest to you and, for a moment, no more, it is a person standing there, bent in thought, strained against a hidden burden, neck turned to feel the pain. This is not a trick of the light or your position in relation to the tree. No, this is one of those moments when your mind takes something mundane, tosses it into the air and changes it as it comes back down.

I think it's possibly an imagination overload, brought on by stress or just too many things going on at the same time. The reason I say that this kind of perception is not a matter of position or a trick of the light is that, as well as seeing the tortured figure, I also see the tree. My rational mind knows it is a tree and can see exactly how it looks, at the same time as my irrational mind sees it as something entirely different.

This is one of those moments when perception turns the day strange and makes the world more than it is, but in an unsettling way that does nothing to comfort. Usually, this kind of weirdness happens once or twice in the same day then won't happen again for quite a while. I now see it as a sign that I'm probably going to react badly or blow a gasket in the near future. It shows me that my mind is working in a different way and needs a little more TLC than usual.

The other way this happens is even more unsettling because it involves other people. As if life isn't hard enough for aspies, when it can be impossible to work out what people want or need or mean. Their expressions can often be a mystery and that's if you notice them at all. What about if you look at their faces and see something that shouldn't be there?

Rather like the tree, I've had occasions where I've glanced across at someone and seen a face that didn't quite fit with what should be there. Again, I could see them also as they should be and actually were, but then there was another expression, a subtly different face beneath, a bit like the way old cameras could have two pictures developed in one shot.

Yes, I know I sound like I'm describing the hot-trot into madness here. I don't mean it to sound like that. I do think it's like an allergic reaction of the psyche - sometimes it becomes just too much to process everything that is laid in front of us so we react by stepping it up a gear and instead of greater understanding, we are given an imaginative filling in of the gaps, a twisting of the perspectives.

It did used to worry me quite a lot, as I thought, 'This is is, I'm finally on my way out.' But then I noticed that the less stress I had, the less it happened and, well, it's logical after that to assume you're not going mad, or if you are, it's temporary, like having a fever. I decided to deal with it differently and try to be glad that I had an unusual, but accurate way, to tell if I was too overwhelmed.

Now, back to the more positive high definition; rather like the strangeness, but much more welcome, I also sometimes see everything as if it had colour enhancers added. It happens even less frequently than the strangeness and I haven't linked it to anything specific, yet.

All I know is that sometimes I will suddenly look afresh at the world and see the colours imbued with more depth and vibrancy than before. It's quite welcome, to be honest, and beautiful. I realise it probably means my oddball brain is making its own dope in a back-room somewhere, but as I've not actually taken anything, I feel I can enjoy the effect guilt-free.

It may not be a good idea to roundly welcome perception changes like this, especially the ones you enjoy. I mean, if life was meant to be enjoyed purely through what we are given, why would people smoke stuff, or drink or use other means of stimulating the senses? Should I be worried that I don't need outside help to have a cosmic experience?

Possibly. I admit, it is not ideal to have the kind of brain which can flick a switch and have you tuning into imagi-mode without any warning. I guess a more normal person might panic and run to the doctor or at least have a stiff drink. In my case, when it happens I just accept it and know it will pass. I also rejoice in having the kind of insane imagination that can make it a bonus to see tortured figures in trees - what a gift for a writer!

I've put this post out there not to enhance my reputation as a mad woman in a llama hat, but to help others who might have experienced this and been tempted to blame it on something else. Or who know it was caused by themselves and were fretting over it.

I've also written this for those friends and family whose aspie has told them about things similar to this. It can sound terrifying and I'm sure there are some of you who have listened and struggled valiantly to look calm and not terrified.

No, it's not normal to perceive things differently, but aspergers is not normal anyway. I think, unless it causes difficulties or lots of extra stress, it's okay to file this under the misc. section of aspie behaviours. If it doesn't cause a problem, don't make it into one.

In the end, like so many other aspie nuances and behaviours, it's all about personal judgement. If something like this causes upset or problems for the person concerned, look into what can be done to help, even if the help is simple reassurance. Otherwise, let it be and accept that we all see the world in different ways. Some of us, very differently!

Amanda

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