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Visual Reorientation Illusions (VRIs) - other explanations of the experience...

Posted by Hugh , 17 September 2011 · 334 views

It's interesting to read how other people explain how they've experienced Visual Reorientation Illusions (VRIs)... where one's world viewpoint gets flipped around 90 or 180 degrees in an instant.

There is a RadioLab Episode called Lost and Found: http://www.radiolab.org/2011/jan/25/ and the first section called "You Are Here" contains Sharon Roseman's account of being lost at a young age because her world got flipped around... she still experiences the flip at times now as well.

In the comment list of that episode, others have shared their experiences too...


Here are a few:


I tried thousands of times to explain this to my parents and friends when I was a kid but no one else could understand. I eventually trained myself to control it by visualizing how the world would look if I turned it 90 degrees, and lately it doesn't happen to me unless I "turn it on." This is so incredible.


I have a very similar problem and have a better way to explain this shift, 90deg or 180. I would like to draw this but will pen it instead. Suppose I was driving to my home horizontally on this board, from the left side to the right (ie heading east), and my home was on the next right turn, facing east, assuming north is up.
I would normally take a right turn and enter my gate, heading in the westerly direction. Lets suppose this is how my brain had oriented my home position.
Now, lets suppose, I was being driven by someone and I dozed off while heading east , prior to taking the right turn. When the car stopped, all i remember is we went straight, as I was not conscious to the right turn. Now when the car stops in front of my home, my house happens to be facing south as I made no turns. Now everything has shifted by 90 degrees. Similarly , if there were 2 right turns, which i was not conscious off, the shift would be 180 degrees.
In this situation, I have to stop and close my eyes and re-orient my self to the 90deg shift and soon, all falls back into place. If you agree and see what I am getting at and if you experience a similar shift, please let me know.
I can also tell you how I deal with this problem and I am now so good at directions. However, I do get disoriented when malls or other places are not sharp 90 degree bends but tend to branch off at an angel.


Wow - this happened to me only once and at age 18. It was terrifying because it happened with my eyes wide open. Walking down the street with 2 friends right outside my house, I suddenly felt lost and disoreiented although I had a clear sense of where I was, somewhere in my neighbourhood and that I was walking. It was just that the scenery had completely shifted...it was a 180 degree turn, where by I knew I was still walking in the same direction I had been before the shift but the path before me felt like it had moved behind me. But not only that, everything felt inverted too. I was completely turned around and terrified. I actually stopped and tried to explain all this to my 2 friends who were just bewildered. I tried to reason out my bearings trying to pinpoint actual landmarks and where they should be, but where they were now... In addition, I had lost all sense of distance and depth, and as I stood on that path trying to understand what had happened, trying to gauge the distance from me to my house and even which way exactly I should be heading, was it forward or backword?....and still unable to feel certain, I was so terrified that all I could do was sit and cry right there on that path. Eventually, I gave in and allowed my friends to lead me home, I just put one foot in front of the other where ever they led me but without any sense of where I was headed, crying with every step. As soon as I reached the gate to our house, and only when I was close enough to touch the actual gate, did I finally feel a sense of place and depth and prespective. What a terrifying experience.....it was like being in the twilight zone, truly, it was like entering a whole new dimension where everything looks the same but feels different and is in a different place.... in my case the terror was from being completely helpless to anchor the scene before me and to make sense of it all...
I just can't imagine how these folks, Sharon as a liitle child....how tough these experiences must have been, and to endure these episodes repeatedly...

Mike Specian:

I was listening to this podcast as I was driving. When Sharon said the world "turns 90 degrees" I almost crashed the car. For the first time in my entire life I had learned of someone who has experiences the same thing as I do!

My experience differs somewhat from Sharon's. First, I don't need to spin around to become disoriented. If I close my eyes (or not, I've gotten better at this) and visualize what the world would look like turned 90 degrees, I can open my eyes and see the difference. This is easier in places where I've spent a lot of time. In new places, I have to concentrate harder to visualize the rotation. Sometimes I actively try to avoid this, as it can lead to confusion and distraction.

The best way I've found to explain it is like this. Picture four streets oriented in a square with four identical houses facing in each of the cardinal directions. All of the surroundings are completely symmetric and identical. My understanding is that under these conditions, almost no one would be able to tell which house is facing in which direction. I can.

Here's another example. I would attend church as a kid. The building was perfect for "turning the world around" because I spent long amounts of time there, and my mind would wander a lot. I began to visualize how the church would appear different to me if I turned it 90 degrees. Eventually, I was able to visualize all four orientations. They each represent distinct places for me. Each was a sub-location buried within the original stationary location. Once an orientation had been visualized, with a slight bit of concentration, I could flip between them. Each felt different to me and caused different emotional reactions. I would notice details in one environment that I wouldn't notice in another.

Despite this, I think that I have a pretty good sense of direction. When I would bike around my home town as a kid and the world flipped on me, I became momentarily disoriented. It was no longer clear which path was the best way home. In those circumstances I could either rotate the world back to its standard configuration or try to map out a "new path" in the other orientation.

This still affects me everyday, but I've gotten so used to it that I'm barely consciously aware of it anymore. I'll sit at my desk, type, the orientation will switch, I won't miss a beat, and I'll return to typing. Sometimes I purposefully change the orientation just to make things more interesting.


I was amazed to hear about Sharon -- I've experienced something similar to her condition since I was a little girl. Many of my first memories about the house I grew up in seem as if they're experienced from a skewed or rotated angle.

As I got older, I realized that if I concentrated, I could turn the disorientation on and off. I remember lying awake at a friend's sleepover, entertaining myself my switching back and forth between points of view.


I have connected with Sharon on the Getting Lost Forum at http://www.gettinglost.ca/forum.php and have shared even more about this phenomenon with others there too.

It's so cool for me to talk about VRIs and hear other's experiences with them. :)

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