What can be done to combat/remedy sudden spatial disorientation?
April 30, 2007 10:11 AM   Subscribe

What can be done to combat/remedy sudden spatial disorientation?

THis phenomenon most commonly afflicts new airplane pilots, but it's something that I have encountered sporadically over the years. It generally happens when I am driving a car or motorcycle down a long stretch of straight road at constant speed. It's not highway hypnosis, but a mild feeling of not knowing what direction I'm facing or being able to feel motion moving forward. It seems to be triggered by mild fatigue, overcast skies or sometimes, even thinking about it. I can usually pull out of it (it is harmless enough, just feels weird) by variying speeds, tapping brakes, but it's something I'd like to avoid. Does anyone have any experience with such a thing, is there anything I can do to work on this (breathing or focusing exercises)? Thanks in advance for the help.
posted by psmealey to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm just guessing but I would think that if you monitored your dashboard more closely, the change from near to far focus would help. In other words, don't use cruise control. Try to maintain an exact speed. Or even try to go exactly 68 mph for a bit and then exactly 64 mph. The idea is to have a reason to keep switching your eyes (and your thoughts) from the road to the spedometer and back again.
posted by metahawk at 11:19 AM on April 30, 2007

Growing up in snowy areas, the one that always concerned me was being burried in an avalanche and then digging in the wrong direction. The best I could come up with was to pick up my hand and let it fall, and then stomach the nausea from my brain suddenly realizing I was upside down.
posted by jwells at 11:24 AM on April 30, 2007

I've experienced this once or twice while driving, and in my cases it was definitely connected to road hypnosis. Thus, even if your situation is different, I would still suggest consciously manipulating your focus every few minutes.

...maybe start checking your review mirrors obsessively?
posted by aramaic at 11:28 AM on April 30, 2007

Response by poster: I had always understood highway hypnosis to manifest itself as having driven a certain (and usually substantial) distance, but having no recollection of most of the drive upon arrival. This feels more like an "out of body" kind of thing. I know what's happening while it is happening, and that it is harmless, but it just feels really weird. It's possible the two things are related. Thanks again for the replies!
posted by psmealey at 11:49 AM on April 30, 2007

Best answer: I think it's just that when you're traveling in a straight line at a uniform speed, the force on your body is basically the same as standing still (in a Newton's 1st law kind of way). Similar problems are indeed a big issue with pilots, especially when their visibility is impaired -- eg, centrifugal force can make a tailspin virtually indistinguishable from smooth sailing. I think the best idea is what you're already doing -- just vary your speed and/or direction a little, to get some variation in your sensation of motion.
posted by svenx at 12:44 PM on April 30, 2007

Best answer: Part of the reason you can't feel your speed while driving is that you have an ability to sense acceleration, but not velocity. So, particularly on good, smooth roads, and especially in something with a car chassis, you're not going to feel your speed quite as much. The way that you do sense it is because of the bumpiness in the road, and of course by seeing stuff flying by. So then, if the stuff flying by is boring, or you aren't paying attention to it, it's pretty easy to stop noticing your movement so much.

I think what your describing does sound a little bit like a mild case of highway hypnosis.
posted by !Jim at 12:45 PM on April 30, 2007

Meditation was explained to me as the elimination of the past and future to focus on the present. As a result something as simple as an orange can appear quite beautiful given the level of detail present, which we normally skip since we've seen so many of them. Playing off of !Jim, if you were to try to concentrate on the present, and look at the detail of the experience (and the fact it keeps disappearing), that might work. Of course, go too far and the car approaching awfully quickly might Darwin you, or worse!
posted by jwells at 12:54 PM on April 30, 2007

Best answer: Are you sure you're not starting to "nod off" a little?

This sounds like what happens to me when I get sleepy behind the wheel.

So far I've never really gotten sleepy on my motorcycle, so the best I can suggest is what is listed above, change up your speed, weave just a SMALL bit in the lane, just do something to recalibrate your senses.
posted by Ynoxas at 1:29 PM on April 30, 2007

They tell pilots, "trust the instruments."

So if you're driving, trust your instruments. Look at the speedometer and the tach - shift and/or change your speed to re-orient yourself.

It doesn't just happen to new pilots. It happens to a LOT of pilots, especially in inclement weather, at night, over water, when there is no ground reference point.
posted by TeamBilly at 2:03 PM on April 30, 2007

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