What is this weird 'after-image' sensation that I am feeling?
March 29, 2020 7:02 PM   Subscribe

Over the last few days in lockdown I have been noticing something weird whereby certain activities that I am do which require periods of intense focus (like puzzling or gaming for example) seem to creep into my visual field at times when I am not doing them. Has anyone else ever experienced this or have any explanation for what is happening?

The last time I noticed this was a period like ten years ago when I was playing a certain FPS game for a few hours a day, that when I was going to sleep at night, I would get these after-image flashes of the gun explosions etc, but this is a bit different...

It's really hard to explain properly though... It's very similar to having a song stuck in your head - i.e, you aren't hearing it like it's actually there, but you can still 'hear' it. In this case, I'm not actually seeing puzzle pieces in my visual field, but sometimes out of nowhere I'll experience the sensation of finding a piece a putting it in place, or 'seeing' a particular piece in my visual field the same way you hear a song in your head. It's super abstract and fleeting, sort of like before you fall asleep, but I'm wide awake...

Part of me feels like this is a stress reaction, as I've always had a very 'sticky' brain/body - Like after a day of swimming or at the beach I'll have moments where I feel in the water last for at least a day or two, and I also get earworms stuck in my head while trying to sleep, especially if I'm stressed out. That said don't feel particularly over-anxious out right now, despite the global circumstances.

I'm really just curious more than anything - does this happen to anyone else? Are there any explanations out there?
posted by sxtrumpeto to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
The Tetris effect?
posted by Spathe Cadet at 7:04 PM on March 29, 2020 [22 favorites]

Extremely normal in my experience! When I had a long stretch of playing Two Dots on my phone, I kept seeing colored dots in everything I looked at.
posted by capricorn at 7:05 PM on March 29, 2020

Spathe Cadet, I never knew it had a name!
posted by capricorn at 7:05 PM on March 29, 2020

It's happened to me after long stretches of playing games before. Once, amusingly enough, after a week of playing nothing but text games, I found myself arranging my thoughts in text game syntax, i.e. seeing something on the ground and thinking "examine object." I've never found it particularly worrisome, though it does generally lead me to realize "okay, been playing too much [game], time to switch to a book or something."
posted by yasaman at 7:14 PM on March 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

I've gotten that exact same sensation after an afternoon of pulling dandelions.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:16 PM on March 29, 2020 [5 favorites]

Amazing. I cannot believe this is a documented thing. Everything there describes my experiences to a tee! I wonder why I might be so sensitive to this effect though... I seem to get it after only 30-40 minutes of activity. Nothing I would consider excessive. If anyone has any other related links to share, please do, otherwise thank you so much for the quick thinking here!
posted by sxtrumpeto at 7:23 PM on March 29, 2020

Yes this is absolutely tetris effect. I get this not only from tetris but also from crocheting, being on a plane, and when I was in college taking a lot of notes by hand I'd get afterimage flashes of notes that made no sense.

My whole family experiences it with tetris - I know because we've been big tetris players since I was very small, including my mom and dad, and we've all discussed our "tetris dreams" as we fall asleep and been surprised that everyone else in the family knew what we were talking about.

I think the length of the activity doesn't really matter. For me, when I've been on a plane that day, I will get phantom sensory information that I'm still on the plane for upwards of a day later, regardless of the length of my flight. I think it more has to do with the state of mind you're in when you're doing the original activity, and being in a similar state later. So like, when I'm crocheting a repetitive motif, it's meditative, and then I get tetris effect flashes of that when I'm fidgety but trying to chill out - exactly the kind of mental state I'm in when I crochet. On a plane I just want it to be over already but I have to stay still in my seat for hours despite environmental discomfort - just like I am when I have to fall asleep in an unfamiliar bed after my flight. It's not as cut and dry as that, but it's fairly predictable for me.
posted by Mizu at 7:34 PM on March 29, 2020 [3 favorites]

I've definitely seen this after playing certain video games for hours at a time. I sometimes dream in JSON.
posted by bendy at 8:00 PM on March 29, 2020

I got this with Yahoo Towers (does anyone else remember Yahoo Towers??).
posted by batter_my_heart at 8:10 PM on March 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

I get this after starting a new game, then trying to go to sleep. I'm still playing it in my head, though the game doesn't really advance. I feel like it's my brain going, "This seems to be what we're doing for some reason, so let's just keep at it."
posted by zompist at 8:25 PM on March 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

Anecdotally, when I used to play guitar hero, for a short time after I would look away from the game, my vision would have a strip in the center of it that appeared to be moving like the stripe in the middle of the rockband screen. It was very unnerving, and I spent a lot of time googling it to figure out if I was having a stroke or something.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:57 PM on March 29, 2020

I get this with Candy Crush. Many years ago I was a cashier using the old kind of register and I used to wake up in the middle of the night and just automatically add the tax to the numbers on the alarm clock.
posted by CathyG at 9:03 PM on March 29, 2020 [13 favorites]

This is just... Everything all the time. I know my life balance is "off" when what I see going to sleep is spreadsheets. I know I've been getting more time to myself if I see my garden, because it means I've been spending enough time there that it's the first thing on my mind. I would not have even thought to call this weird.
posted by Lady Li at 9:14 PM on March 29, 2020 [2 favorites]

The Neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks talks about that sort of thing in his book "Hallucinations," which I found to be a great read. It's just one of the very many many forms of benign hallucinations, sometimes for a broad definition of hallucinations, which indicates neither neuropathy nor psychosis. Only about 25% of hallucinations we know about, he says early on, indicate a problem.
posted by Sunburnt at 11:59 PM on March 29, 2020 [3 favorites]

It's interesting how different people have a different predisposition towards this effect. Personally, I only get it when I spend a lot of time over multiple days on something. For example, I got it when playing 2048 intensively for a few days. I wasn't seeing numbers, but instead tended to mentally push objects from left, right, up and down.
posted by milan-g at 4:18 AM on March 30, 2020

Relevant storyline! Just keep clicking the right arrow and you'll eventually get the two panels I'm thinking of. If you have extra time on your hands and want it to really kick you in the gut like it did me when I first encountered it, go all the way back to October 1, 2001, and read in sequence.
posted by Don Pepino at 4:27 AM on March 30, 2020

Back in the day (i.e. when the original Doom came out) following a few hours of playing non-stop, my real-world vision was distinctly pixelated for quite some time afterward.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:08 AM on March 30, 2020

I used to look down a microscope at tiny fossils for hours at a time - and afterwards I’d see them everywhere! This absolutely used to happen to me. Sometimes even if I closed my eyes. Looking for a particular shape with your eyes for hours at a time I think trains your brain into looking for and expecting to see that shape.
posted by Nilehorse at 6:42 AM on March 30, 2020 [2 favorites]

Huh! Amazing, I'm also among those who didn't know it was so recognised. For me, it's occasionally having my thoughts appear as a social media feed scrolling in front of my eyes, as I wake in the morning. That doesn't make me feel proud of my life choices, I tell ya.

Similarly, but less digitally, back in my teens I used to work on a checkout for 3.5 hours on a Friday evening, then again 9am - 5pm on Saturday. Friday nights I would fall asleep to the relentless imaginary beeping of the checkout in my ears, and the sight/sensation of my hands scanning items again and again, right to left, before my closed eyes.
posted by penguin pie at 7:00 AM on March 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

After long sessions of Katamari Damacy, I would find myself analyzing every object in sight to determine the best order in which to roll them up.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:31 AM on March 30, 2020

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