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When Sharon Roseman was five years old, something strange happened. She was playing a game with her friends, and when she took off her blindfold--she didn't know where she was. She was lost on her own block, in her own backyard. For most of her life, Sharon feared it was all in her head, and kept her troubles a secret. Until she saw something on TV that led her to get in touch with Dr. Guiseppe Iaria, who helped her find a diagnosis...and a friend with the same condition. And Sharon's story begs the question--how do we know where we are? What does it take to be able to walk down the hall, or down the block, and back? Jonah Lehrer explains the very recent science that's helping unlock how our brains make maps from moment to moment. Along the way, Karen Jacobsen, who calls herself "the GPS Girl" (her voice can be heard in GPS units in millions of cars around the world), helps Jad and Robert navigate the episode's twists and turns.

Guests:

Dr. Giuseppe Iaria, Karen Jacobsen and Jonah Lehrer

Comments [89]

Dave Terry from San Francisco, CA

I've had this pretty much all my life. I have no memory of it not being there. I never experienced a disorientation or "lost" feeling, but the 90 degree "shift" is as normal to me as breathing. I can do it at will; sometimes it's just there, and I can usually re-orient as fast as I need to (very important when driving or walking in unfamiliar circumstances).
I may have tried to explain it to people, but realized early in my life that there were no words for it. I kind of assumed that everyone had this phenomenon, and like me, just didn't bother to mention it.

For most of my life, I could do three views, but in the last several years, it's just been two. I'm 64, and this is the first time I ever looked it up or researched it at all. It's one of those things to which I've always said: " I wonder what THAT is?" Rarely has it been an issue that I thought needed attention. I think my acceptance of it stems from it having been there as long as I can remember. I'm pretty sure, though, that I used the spin method when I was a kid.Nobody thought twice about a 5-year-old spinning around anywhere. The internet was years in the future, and kids had to do something for entertainment. I guess I was an early adapter.

I would encourage anyone who experiences this to treat it as a talent and a tool. i've used it countless times to short-circuit a mood plunge or anxiety attack. I've always looked at it like synesthesia, or any of those brain/perception goof ups that are part of the human experience. It is thrilling, though, to finally see others in the same boat. (the one heading south, no, wait, west! at least it feels like west, but it's south, I know it! )

Jun. 22 2014 12:05 AM
Hugh from Toronto

I made a Visual Reorientation Illusion VRI Flip video on Youtube to help explain how this phenomenon is experienced. It's based on a map of downtown Toronto. Enjoy! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cg2F44h9ilU

Mar. 13 2014 06:19 PM
Hugh from Toronto

Everyone, please join the gettinglost.ca forum that was started up by Dr. Giuseppe Iaria and is moderated by Sharon Roseman, the woman who is featured in this podcast! We would love to hear more about your experiences with this flipping phenomenon, and any others related to being "lost" as well.

Mar. 09 2014 01:16 AM
Sue from Seattle

I've had this "flip flop vision" since age 3 and it's so fun to hear of others that also have this 'unique ability'!!! I realized I saw the street I lived on as well as my home in two different 'ways' - it wasn't until we moved to a new house that had the same models every few houses that I realized it was 90 degrees. Age 6 I realized my friend's house faced West and mine faced South, the exact same floor plan yet hers was the "flip flopped version". Like others, my mom said "I just wouldn't talk much about it"...mainly because it sounded so weird and she couldn't understand. I grew into it, practicing my drum and bugle corps field formations 4 counts at a time at night in my "flip flop form" lest I be smashed with a baritone if I moved in the wrong direction. What I want to know is do any of you do the flip flop with your eyes closed, sensing when it has flipped, then open your eyes and seeing you're right? Does lead me to believe it has something to do with our sense of direction and our magnetic compass. I have fun with it, but it always snaps back like a stretched rubber band. I'm 52 now and have been toying with it for 49 years alone - so wonderful to hear I'm not the only one!!!

Mar. 07 2014 03:24 AM
Joyce from Virginia

I have been aware that I had this problem since I was about 6 years old. I thought I was the only one until I heard Sharon describe it perfectly: it is as if someone picked up the world, turned it 90 degrees, and then set it back down. After telling my mom about it, and making a trip to the eye doctor, no one could figure it out, and I was probably too young to provide a good description. So I have lived with this my whole life. I have learned to navigate all 4 of my rotations, although I usually stay in one "default" direction. If I am in a building for the first time, and things flip, the only way I can find my way is to mentally picture which way I turned to get to my present position, and then travel that path in reverse to get me back. I find it interesting that we all have 90 degree rotations. My question has always been: I wonder which of my 4 rotations other people "live" in permanently.

Feb. 08 2014 04:28 PM
Janette from Edmonton, AB. Canada

Oh my gosh!!! I have never found anyone who experienced this - I've had a couple doctors tell me it was a petit mal type of seizure - but in all my own research I could not find anything to describe what happens like this does!!! Sometimes I can control it and play with the different sensations when I change my world orientation.... but like this morning - driving into town on roads I have driven for over 35 years - I could not. Thank goodness my son was with me when I got to downtown - he was able to direct me to his house and then "voila" all of a sudden it switched back and I knew where I was. I feel "spacy" though now this morning.

Jan. 17 2014 11:56 AM
Phil from Ireland

Can those of you that also have these flips in orientation please join our forum on gettinglost.ca. I too have the 90 deg disorientation like Sharon.

Jan. 08 2014 09:08 PM
Shanti from California

I have had VRI for ever and experience it every day. It was only yesterday that I discovered I am not the only one!
Unlike some of the others, the 90/180 degree displacement happens to me automatically and I cannot change it on my own. This phenom has always intrigued me but I never thought anyone else would be experiencing the same thing and never disclosed it to anyone. Now I know I am not alone,, I feel like Richard Dryfuss in The Close Encounters of the Third kind! I want to learn more about research in this field. Please do share and I will do the same.

Dec. 08 2013 07:45 PM
Benjamin Craig from Berkley MI

I do not suffer from this, but there has been several instances where i think this intial "map of my surroundings" gets a little weird. I have excellent sense of direction. My friends call me a crow, that is, I can find my way back to places I have only been to once, usually quite a bit in the past. I also have a strange way of keeping my heading in relation to true north in check. This said, There have been a few instances where I can clearly remember the way my brain has laid out a place that I have been to for the first time. The first was my firsttrip to my high school, on an orientation. The "upness" of this initial "map" has since been rotated 90 degrees. I however still remember like it was yesterday when "up" was flipped back to the initial experience. The two other involve my college campus, and my current place of employment. Eavh involve a 90 flip of "up" from my first conception, with a clear rememberance of the old way I had the place laid out in my head. This interview got me thinking. You guys are the best, I listen everyweek!

Nov. 18 2013 07:56 PM
Hugh from Toronto

Hi Pascal, it was great to connect with you on the Unexplained Mysteries forum about VRIs. There have been others on there discussing them, as well on the Getting Lost forum, including Sharon, who is featured in this podcast. So great to hear from so many leaving comments on here who experience this strange phenomenon, of the whole world and universe getting instantly turned around on them 90 or 180 degrees. Looking forward to hearing more!

Hugh

May. 04 2013 11:57 AM
Pascal from Grenoble, France

I experience this kind of disorientation every days, but I never really feel lost, I just accept that inside some building or in some towns, north in not always on the... north side.
I've found forums or notes talking about it (mainly by Hugh who has posted here too)... but still nothing in french and I don't know if there is a word for that.

Apr. 29 2013 08:47 AM
Don Clark from Lilburn, GA

Some events from my childhood...

Got a concussion from falling from a ladder onto concrete in my garage.
Girl friend from school taking me to play in the fields outside of her house. Her mom came out of the house and called to her. She then told me that her mother was a witch.
Feet stuck to the sides of the wall as I walked down the hallway. Very frustrating, cried.
Woke up in the middle of the night, full moon, tried to smooth the fabric on the pillow. Very disoriented.
Could turn on and off eyes shifting quickly back and forth. Almost simulated room spinning.

Not sure of the dates/timing of these events.

I feel like I visually map places/locations to aid me in this.
I still to this day do not use road signs to get where Im going. I use landmarks, but can get confused when driving in day/night.
Im also really good at remembering peoples faces (including on tv/movies) but not their names.

Apr. 09 2013 05:11 PM
Nancy Williams from Miami, Fla.

OMG...I almost drove off the road when I heard this radio broadcast with Sharon...I've had this since I was a teenager and I have 4 distinct "Directions" I've tried explaining it to people, but it is difficult. If I do change directions while I'm driving where it would be difficult to find my way around, I can usually just picture myself back in main direction and I'll switch back to my normal familiarity.I never thought other people experienced this...really amazing to hear the radio broadcast...THANK YOU Sharon for bringing this to light...

Apr. 07 2013 01:12 PM
patty harvey

I have this alot, I can be driving along a road I drive all the time, and just look up and not know where I am.It seems to happen more at times of stress,And it usually passes soon. also my sense of direction almost goes away completely after dark.

Apr. 06 2013 04:35 PM
ankush from india

Hi have been experiencing same things - 90degree rotation in everything I perceive....even the text book I read...even my computer screen, my room my television video. I can change it by myself and sometimes happens automatically. I am searching since last year about this but never found anything before but now. After reading about it now I understand what It is. But what to do to stop this. Sometimes it just irritates me when I try to understand directions, try to remember things I read in text books, all the things rotates exactly 90 degrees. I have even made a 3d model of my room in both rotation to explain my situation to the people of the world but they dont understand and never will. Help needed indeed. It effects my learning and navigation.

Someone here asked where you can take those online tests :

here: http://gettinglost.ca/tests/

I got 0% in cognitive maps recognition.

Dec. 15 2012 03:55 PM
beatrice Parsons Binkley from Arvada, Colorado

I can't believe this condition was ever a problem for anyone else. Since I was in kindergarten I have had episodes when my world was "switched" but
I never, ever told anyone because I could'nt explain these happenings.
Whenever the switch occured it was often when I first woke up in the morning. I wish I would have known to close my eyes and spin atound. Instead, I would close my eyes, wait a few seconds hopeing I would be o.k. when I opened my eyes. These happenings continued from @ age 4, through my teen years, and into my adult years. As I aged, the switch happened less
often and now it rarely happens. During all those incidents, I stood still, not knowing which way to go because I was in unfamiliar territory.
I am thrilled that Sharon was brave enough to try to explain her condition so that others (including me) now know what was wrong with us.

Oct. 12 2012 04:10 PM
Juan from Florida

I tried to explain it to my sister when we were kids and she could not understand what I was talking about. I always thought it was a tremendous advantage since I could visualize my city in 4 different ways that apparently not many other people could; I just took it as going to another place you knew memories and mood transplanted there too. One minor thing, sometimes I have to turn things araound to be able to remember events that happened in a particular view. More than just the view of the location, I think that there are deeper psychological effects worth exploring. AsI have grown older I have lost the ability to see or remember what I used to as a kid.

Oct. 12 2012 07:37 AM
Kirsten

I am so happy to have stumbled across this! About 4 years ago when I was living abroad I often got confused in my kitchen. On a number of occasions I would go to put something in the oven only to find the oven wasn't where it should be. It has recently gotten worse and has made me panic when I'm driving to work and all of a sudden I don;t recognize the street I am on even though I have driven on it every day for years. It also happens at work when I walk through my call center on my way to a meeting and I everything all of a sudden looks different to me and I don't know how to get to where I am going.

I never realized until listening to this that it's not that I have never seen the place I am in before, it's just that I am seeing it from an angle I have never seen. I feel....found.

Jun. 14 2012 12:49 AM
rachel from scotland

I've experienced VRIs since childhood, and have never been able to explain this to anyone without attracting confused stares. I must have been about four years old when it happened the first time and I remember it affected me strongly. One day my home and my street just spontaneously "changed direction", this was a permanent shift which has lasted to this day. I clearly remember feeling confused and upset at the time and actually tried hard to concentrate to get the "old world" to come back - but it never did. I can still visualise it when I recall memories from before a certain age. I know now that what I was really seeing was the same view but from another angle, but at the time it felt like I had gone to a whole other world. I can voluntarily bring on VRI flips if I concentrate hard enough, but there is usually always a default view for most places I know. This is all very interesting to read.

Jun. 07 2012 10:15 AM
Corey

Same deal here to a much less frequent degree. Every so often, I'll be unable to conceptually orient myself for a few moments to minutes. It only frightened me once, when I was inside a coffee shop and suddenly realized that I had been been processing the things around me relative to a conceptual 'grid', for lack of a better term, that was in fact representative of a location across town. Normally, I'm simply unable to orient myself, and the feeling fades fairly rapidly; that time, it was like a whole portion of my cognition dedicated to location matrices was so screwed up it had to reboot, which was kind of scary. Just remembered I had been planning to google this after having an episode while walking down a residential
street and being temporarily uncertain of where I was. Really interesting the way the brain processes location data along several dimensions (eg I'm personally oriented--I know what I'm doing, where I'm going, etc, but am simply temporarily unable to orient that data to my surroundings).

May. 29 2012 03:49 PM
William Ballough from Los Angeles

I have macular degeneration which makes parallel lines appear wavy, but not vertical lines. However, if I turn my head at 90 degress the situation reverses. I wonder what physiology causes that effect.

Feb. 24 2012 07:10 PM
James Reid from Los Angeles

So glad there's a name for my weird condition. Since Sharon was only five when her mother made the "witch" comment, I wonder if it might have been a joking remark to a child who was not taken seriously. A little child might miss the humor. I hope it was.

Jan. 21 2012 08:09 PM
Cyndi A from Jax FL

This subject fascinates me! Your show made me look up the hippocampus and I'm further stunned. My husband swears I have a map in my head and my sense of direction is a bit exaggerated. However, I have memories going back to when I was only 3 and had a recurring dream that dates back to when I was 18 months old. I wonder if the people suffering with this disease also have an issue with memory. Are there connections? Have the Drs who treat this sought out people with an excellent sense of direction to compare the differences. As opposed to people with a regular sense of direction. I mean, maybe those people have too much of some chemical or a mark on a dna strand. Something to help the researchers pin point differences? I have been thinking about this show all week. Again, awesome show!!

Jan. 21 2012 03:31 PM
Wouter from Belgium

Very interesting. I'm actually making an animated short that deals with perspective switches, much like the one described in the podcast. Thanks for sharing.
Though if I may give my critique on the interview, it actually got on my nerve that the 2 hoats always interrupt the person talking and talk over it.. I understand it makes it more compact and better to understand, but I'd much rather here the person saying it for himself/herself. Kinda made me want to stop listening.
Though, still very interesting and to the point, the whole podcast. :)
peace from Belgium

Dec. 06 2011 08:58 AM
Aviva from Israel

I just learned in a sustainable agriculture class about an insecticide called neonicotinoid that could potentially be responsible for the Colony Collapse Disorder of the bees. The chemical affects the central nervous system of insects and causes them paralysis and death. When studying the disappearance of bees, scientist noticed bizarre symptoms, like the foraging bees just not coming back home after flying away and then the remaining bees die off at a later time. Typically parasites immediately come and consume the leftover honey; however, now they wait weeks before inhabiting if they come at all. The most likely answer is that the neonicotinoids cause the foraging male bees to lose directionality and they cannot return to their hive, so they die. The queen and her remaining bees in the hive are not effected until a while later.

I just wanted to write about this because if the bees are losing directionality from neonicotinoids, possibly they (and other chemicals we smother our crops in) could be the cause for this rising disorder....thoughts?

Nov. 13 2011 07:02 AM
Hugh

The 90 and 180 degree instant flips in the perceived orientation of our viewpoint are called Visual Reorientation Illusions (VRIs). I too have experienced them from youth and have learned like others to cognitively initiate them... for fun. :)

Sep. 02 2011 08:18 AM
Andrew

I can't believe this actually exists. 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.

Aug. 17 2011 03:56 PM
Karynna from Lost!

Oh my goodness, I'm in tears right now! This is me, this happens to me and I've been telling people for years that I couldn't help it at all, there was something wrong with my brain. Finally, I have proof! Thank you so much!! I've been compelled to explain to people so many times that I can't find places outside of visual range reliably, even if it's just three blocks straight down the street from my home I can become disoriented very quickly. It's always quite shocking to people to learn of my disorientation problems because I'm very intelligent, and I can compensate extremely well most of the time but I'm still "permalost". I am SO excited! Maybe there will be help for me some day! :D

Aug. 14 2011 09:55 AM
Janet from Colorado

Just played this episode today and am so relieved. I have lived almost 62 years getting lost or disoriented regularly. My glitch while driving is that my destination suddenly flips behind my current position. I do not "see" it like Sharon, but I "know" it has moved...as I "know" that Colorado springs is north of Denver. My glitch while walking involves going in and out of buildings with multiple entrances.
Thank you radiolab for explaining this hard to describe condition that I have felt enbarrassed bout all of my life!

Aug. 13 2011 12:19 AM
Nikos from Greece

I found this story very interesting! I want to add my own story, or actually the one of my girlfriend. She seems to have the same problem. First, she has the problem with orientation. For example, the door of our previous house was on the side of a really steep street (women on high heels had to walk backwards to go downhill) and we used to walk every morning to our work going downhill. Even after 3 years living there and repeating the same root every day, there were mornings she was confused and she was turning uphill! Second, she has the problem with face recognition. She even had problem recognizing me during the first years we knew each other. Actually, when she was coming back from trips (she is a scientist, so she travels a lot for conferences) she was standing on the airport and she was waiting for me to approach her, because she was afraid she might go to a stranger! Also, if someone she knows change his haircut, next time she will see him she is going to introduce herself (it has actually happened few times). These said, I would like to comment some things people said bellow. First, someone mentioned that he has felt the same after sleeping in a train. Something similar with his case had happened to me, on a totally symmetric underground station with the platform in the middle, where I was waiting for the train to come from the opposite direction from where it came. The feeling was actually so strong that I didn't board on the train, but I went out of the station to "re-orientate" myself. After the discussions I had with my girlfriend though, I tend to believe that these two things are completely unrelated. I believe that my case is the result of the correct processing from my brain, but with a confusing input. The case of my girlfriend though is the result of a wrong processing and it can happen even with the simplest input, indicating there is something working differently in her mind. Second, Marie-Noelle (who mentioned she has the same condition), said she believes it is because of a brain damage during birth, result of her mother not really wanting her. I am not so sure though if the reason is a physical trauma of the brain. The common pattern I see with my girlfriend is an early childhood with very strong negative emotions, so I tend to believe the reason might be that during the early years of their life, all these negative emotions didn't allow this part of the brain to develop correctly. I would actually like to hear from other people having the same condition, about their childhood.

Aug. 12 2011 07:16 AM
Adam from Atlanta

Yeah, what about the "witch" thing?

Did Mom have the same condition?

Jul. 16 2011 04:15 PM
Marie-Noelle C. Long from Bloomington, Indiana

I have a theory explaining why people have this getting lost in a known space and being unable to recognize faces of people they should know. This is a problem to me, I can get lost in my own house and, as a matter of fact, I usually find that I am, for example, facing North instead of South. I was somewhat abused by my mother when I was a child, almost each day she would remind me that she had spent 36 hours in labour during my birth. Later she made it clear that she had not wanted to become pregnant (resented my father for this). I came to the conclusion that, witholding giving me up at the time of birth she had caused part of my skull/brain to be squizzed and therefore preventing part of it from fundtioning correctly. I suggest that someone make a survey of people with the "lost" syndrome asking them the question: "How many hours was your mother in labour?" I suggest that they would find out that people with my/our problem are people who skull/brain was squizzed that a crippling extent at the time of birth. Some graduate student should have a field day with this, even write a thesis and , perhaps a dissertation. Good hunting, Marie-Noelle. (812) 339-2739 (I do not have the Internet at home and must yuse the public library to send this message).

Jul. 11 2011 11:09 AM
Jane Loret de Mola from Jupiter, Florida

This was fascinating....one question: why did her mother tell her to keep it quiet or she'd be burned as a witch? Does the mother have the same condition and was persecuted for it?
So glad I found you guys!

Jul. 09 2011 10:02 AM
roy from India

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.

Jun. 27 2011 05:23 AM
roy from India

I am from India and 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, let 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 stop in front of my home, my house happens to be facing south as I made no turns. Now everything is 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.

Jun. 27 2011 04:54 AM
Vicki from California

This story really resonated with me. As Sharon's story unfolded, I kept saying, "yes!" "yes!" to myself. I understand completely where she's coming from, although I do not suffer such an extreme case.
In my situation, I am disoriented only when I wake up in the middle of the night. When I was little, I thought it was just a dream. I would wake up in my room, but it's not my room (well, it is, but it isn't). It would take me a long time to get my bearings, then even longer to find the door, etc. If I found the light switch, everything would instantly be "righted" and I would be just fine. As an adult, this still happens on occasion. I wonder through my house, "lost", typically looking for the wc. This disorientation has always baffled me, and has always felt dreamlike. To hear Sharon's story - I feel like I can define it now and have a sense of control over it. My theory for my situation is that my hippocampus is a little slower to "wake up" than the rest of my brain. This gives me comfort. Thank you, RadioLab!

May. 26 2011 02:28 PM
Dan from Boulder

Facinating story! I had to read a little more about grid cells, border cells, and the like. Here's an interesting article if you are interested: http://scienceblogs.com/neurophilosophy/2010/01/human_grid_cells_tile_the_environment.php

May. 17 2011 12:23 AM
badenver from Denver

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...

Great story once again.

May. 17 2011 12:02 AM
Amber from Silver Spring, MD

Thank you so much for this story! I suffered a concussion at the beginning of 2011, and ever since the injury, I find myself suddenly lost in a place that is should be completely familiar to me. The first several times this happened, I was quite panicked, but now I take a deep breath and wait it out. Eventually, my brain fixes this sudden disorientation, and I figure out where I am.
Hopefully, this won't be a permanent problem for me: my recovery from this concussion has taken much longer than expected, in many ways. In the meantime, it's comforting to know that there are other people out there who suffer from a similar problem with disorientation.
Thank you!
Amber

May. 10 2011 10:23 AM
Dave from Baltimore

So, Sharon's mother leans over and says "Never tell anyone. They will think you are a witch."

It is quite obvious she said this because the problem is congenital and she suffers from the same thing. And just like Sharon, she hides it from her family.

Apr. 29 2011 08:49 AM
krmaqueen

are grid cells related to magnetism?

Apr. 27 2011 04:40 AM
Lara

Just wanted to say this episode was fantastic and I'm so glad to see in the comments that more people now are admitting they have the same condition, realizing there's a name for it, and having the exact same emotionally-validating experience that Sharon expressed in the interview. Hope Giuseppe's studies will produce some solutions in our lifetime.

Apr. 26 2011 10:52 PM
Luis from barcelona, spain

google maps on blind's people brain with live feed

I have a question I have not been able to get a real answer. Do blind people have the right connections on the brain to interpret images? I mean, I know they cannot see through the eyes, but maybe they could see through the brain. So I ask myself, are we able to put some kind of real data into a blind's people brain? We could design a system that we could signal blind people's brain with google maps real data.

Imagine, that we could insert google maps into blind's people brain so they could "see". The problem with this is that they would see still images and not "real data" images. So if there's a new hole on the street they would fall. So linking google maps and twitter we could have real data. Live feed.

The energy to build this up could come from our own steps, so we will be able to charge the batteries.

http://www.facebook.com/notes/luis-pallares/google-maps-on-blinds-people-brain-with-live-feed/10150177673874625

Apr. 18 2011 12:09 PM
Lexa from Portland, OR

I, like Mike from Baltimore, was also driving when I heard this and thought "omg someone else has this.."- I have had this condition since childhood, and I, too, am only slightly disoriented by it as I have gotten used to it- but I have always had primary, secondary, and so on directions- just 4, but every location I spend time in has all 4, eventually. It gets really disorienting when I am somewhere just once, for a short time. I have never been able to explain it to anyone, except my brother.
Hooray for the 90 degree rotation & Radiolab!

Apr. 17 2011 12:13 AM
Alan from Dayton from Dayton, Ohio

When I was very young (under 6 or so) I remember that I always knew how to find my way back to places I had been, even when my parents and sisters couldn't. I remember one time when my parents were totally lost on the way to a house in a city miles from our home. I kept saying, "I can get us there", but of course, no one wanted to listen to a little kid. Finally, out of desperation, they let me give directions. I got us there directly, but when we turned the corner to the house, I remember being disappointed because I didn't recognize the house. It was the correct house, it just wasn't a part of how I found our way there. I don't have that ability anymore. so, sometimes I can't find my way back.

Apr. 11 2011 10:42 PM
Tama Filipas from Portland, OR

I was crying, laughing, and then crying again. What an amazing show. New favorite.

Apr. 10 2011 04:08 PM
ellen katzman from los angeles ca

What a remarkable article! I am off exactly 180 degrees and almost never know where I am. I get lost in my own home. It's been interesting, to say the least. In addition, I began my life as a breech birth. Is there any help?

Apr. 10 2011 01:09 PM
Vee Smee from Oregon

That was so interesting. I have to wonder if Sharon's mother might have had something similar and her comment was a response to her own experience, possibly as a child. Thanks you for the episode.

Apr. 08 2011 12:21 PM
Laura from North Carolina

I think that the rotation occurs in the mind, it has happened to me too on a number of occasion, although my rotation tends to be 180 degrees and only when I have my eyes closed.

Plus I have the same problem as Steven from New Jersey in that I can totally get lost in stores with mulitple exits. Lost my car once and was so embarrassed when security found it in another parking area.

Also could never tell north, south, east or west until I moved to Lousiville Ky, then it clicked in and lasted for quite awhile through a move back to Texas, but then I moved to NC and now, I have a hard time figuring out north/south, but I think that is only because of the strange directions roads are laid out in the area I live in.

Apr. 07 2011 11:25 AM
Betsy

Ever since early childhood I've always feel like there was a thread attached to me. And if I felt too tangled up then I'd just feel "wrong."
If (when walking to a destination) I passed a sign on my left, on the return I'd have to pass the sign on my right; rather than "circling" it. This is NO WHERE near as complex as the 90degree rotation because my issue is just a feeling. My husband calls it the thread of life, and even now I feel it, but it's not as constant as in childhood.
This story just spoke to me, and I hope that Sharon and the 700 patients finds some way to grow or correct her Hypothalamis.

Apr. 06 2011 08:26 PM
Reagan Pufall from Omaha, Nebraska

In relation to the part concerning the cells in your brain to do with orientation:

I am a landscape photographer and I simply adore polarizing lenses. Part of being that kind of photographer is spend many tedious hours driving around. While driving I would often tilt my head 90 degrees while wearing polarizing sunglasses to see the effect but I can only do this briefly because of the sudden harsh sense of complete disorientation while driving. The next time you're out driving somewhere relatively empty give it a go and maybe you'll get the same sensation.

Apr. 06 2011 01:25 PM
Hope from Rockville Centre, NY

The episode on place recognition was fascinating. My experience is the same as one of other commenters. I totally forget where I am. It usually happens when am driving; I forget how to get where I am going. I could be driving home, and all of a sudden I don't recognize where I am, or how to get home. I keep driving and it comes back to me in a few minutes. I have to think of how to get home. I've never told anyone; I was afraid it was the beginning of dementia of Alzheimer's.

Apr. 05 2011 04:24 PM
m glaser from chicago

As I was listening to the segment on place recognition, I thought about a study done by researcher Henry Lai of the U. of Washington back in the 90's. He took a group of rats that had successfully learned to swim a water maze to find a platform at the end, and then exposed them to 2.45 GHz (radiofrequency/microwave radiation---similar to that involved in Wi-Fi and other wireless technologies). A significant number of the rats had trouble finding the same platform after the exposure---they tended to swim around and around trying to locate it.

I'm wondering if there could be any relationship between that and the problems people are reporting. It might not be that exact frequency all the time, but the whole realm of non-ionizing radiation is showing biological effects, many affecting the brain, and it could be that some people are sensitive to it. (Several studies suggest that this is so.)

Even though most of today's wireless technologies may not have been around when some of these folks were kids, others were---radar, radio and tv transmissions, cordless phones, ELF from electrical lines, certain diathermal therapies.

Apr. 05 2011 01:41 PM
Nancie Liles from Hendersonville, NC

Thank you for this segment on NPR. Growing up, my family was very accepting of my inability to find where I was -- my mother had the same problem. As a teenager and adult I found myself frightened and on the defensive a lot. Nick names such as 'goofy' and 'air head' hurt, yet I smile Now I know I'm not alone -- even when I'm lost.

Apr. 03 2011 10:06 AM
waking up in Maine

The most striking thing about this story to me was how alone Sharon was for because of the power of her mother's words. As parents, we have such ability to 'change the world forever' for our kids. Had her mom had the skills to help her, her isolation and confusion may have been diffused - why do we have children and then allow them to experience such incredible hardship at our own hands? This story will remind me to be careful with my own power, and to try to be a better ally
to my own children.
I don't know how you found the strength to live
with this condition for so long after experiencing such betrayal. Congratulations on having finally found your way out of isolation.

Mar. 27 2011 10:07 PM
Paul from Kalamazoo

So I have Karen Jacobson to thank for my Garmin's "recalculating" scolding.. you could sound a little less annoyed with me Karen.

Mar. 21 2011 10:40 PM
Kate from Brooklyn, NY

I have had something similar happen to me for almost 30 years, since I was a teenager. I always think of it as the reverse of deja vu--instead of a place or a situation I have never been seeming familiar, it is a place I know well seeming totally new.
What occurs is I can be in a very familiar place and then it seems like I've never been there--the town I grew up in, even the neighborhood where I have lived for the past 15 years. It happens when I am walking, riding my bike, and driving. Occasionally it happens to me in places I am not too familiar with: foreign cities for example.
I usually just keep on my path and wait for it to clear...even if I have no idea where I am, I don't panic, keep calm, just follow my intuition and turn where I think I should turn.
I have always recovered my orientation. The weird thing for me is that I am very good with direction and situating myself the rest of the time, I am constantly being asked for directions and I always know which way is north, south etc.
I had never heard about anyone else having this before--a friend of mine who has epilepsy said it sounded to him like a seizure kind of thing.

Mar. 18 2011 03:39 PM
Mike Specian from Baltimore, MD

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.

Mar. 13 2011 09:40 PM
Rayna from Pennsylvania

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.

Today the disorientation is mostly gone, though I still get lost quite often (and am a terrible chess player. I wonder if Sharon is too).

Several years ago i started to experience another odd phenomenon -- I'd be walking down the street and suddenly, for no reason, feel myself lifting gently off the ground and floating away like a balloon. It happened several times over the period of a few months and then stopped, as suddenly as it had came. (I believe there was another episode of Radiolab about a woman who felt she was sinking into the floor and felt she knew she was going to die, or something. I was amazed to hear her story, too!)

I've never been to a doctor about any of this. Maybe I should. Thanks, Radiolab!

Mar. 09 2011 09:02 AM
David from Denver

Is there some recommended readings (books /articles) about the neuroscience that Jonah Lehrer talks about? His site didn't seem to have anything specific. Thanks.

Mar. 08 2011 04:42 PM
Hugh

I can identify with the phenomenon that Sharon has described as I too have experienced it since childhood. Scientists call it a Visual Reorientation Illusion (VRI). Up in space with no gravity, astronauts routinely have the perceived ceiling, floor and walls exchange identities with a sudden 90 or 180 degree instant rotation. Here on Earth, because of gravity, the only VRIs we normally experience are around the vertical axis, so the perceived North/South/East/West directions get flipped around 90 or 180 degrees. One ends up being able to see one's surroundings in four different orientations using VRIs. Each world viewpoint is the exact same, except it is just flipped around 180 degrees from one of the other viewpoints, and 90 degrees from the other two.

Mar. 08 2011 03:46 PM
marca17 from Brooklyn

I don't think you are using the phrase "begs the question" correctly. I think you mean:
"And Sharon's story raises the question--how do we know where we are?"

Feb. 26 2011 08:21 PM

Hi Matt and Yaz,
That song is "Reflections," by Santo and Johnny, the same group that played the classic "Sleepwalk."
Tim

Feb. 25 2011 11:01 AM
Matt from Oregon

also want to know what that steel guitar song is!

Feb. 25 2011 02:14 AM
kb from maryland

Just heard the show today in a podcast. Fascinating.

Someone asked about taking the test. Here's a link to the page about the condition:
http://www.gettinglost.ca/ (which is a page in the lab of the doctor, Giuseppe Iaria, who spoke in the segment. There is a "Test Your Skills" link on that page.)

Also, here is a story from a TV station in Colorado which has an interview with Sharon Roseman. http://www.thedenverchannel.com/health/21513512/detail.html (Link good 0n 2-22-11)

Feb. 22 2011 02:40 PM
Yaz from San Diego

What is that haunting guitar song playing at the end of this segment?

Feb. 21 2011 08:45 PM
Kevin from brooklyn

Place cells are in the hippocampus. All the other cell types mentioned are distributed throughout various other temporal lobe structures (i.e. entorhinal cortex and post-subiculum).

The fact that spinning fixes things suggests an influence of the semi-circular canals (i.e. the inner ears). One simple idea I had is that the guest's confusion may result from a mismatch between the "path integration" system and "cognitive map" system. This would be a difference between the computed location based on the number of steps you've taken in each location and the location you perceive based on local landmarks. That's all I can say but it'd be interesting to study more in depth with more neuroscience.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Head_direction_cells#Vestibular_influences

Feb. 15 2011 06:52 PM
Josh c from st paul, MN.

One of the best shows! I turned a lot of friends onto this one! I related to all the comments about this episode, there are a lot of cryers out there. I am wondering if super olympic athletes have hyper active parts of their brain, opposite to your first segments subject. That increased blood flow to those parts of the brain that control direction or spacial relationships allow hyper sensitivity for body control in athletics??

Feb. 11 2011 03:47 PM

Hello there, when I heard this show it reminded me of this french animation that I saw a few months ago. An animation that I thought was a lovely idea, but I see now that maybe it was based on real experience of a sort. see it here: http://shortsbay.com/film/skhizein - its beautiful.

Feb. 10 2011 06:22 PM
parnellrt from richmond, va

Radiolab- i dont know where to post this so she might eventually hear it, but here goes... Sharon Roseman mentioned that she wished there was a Sit-n-Spin for grown ups- THERE IS!!! Its available at the Affordable Therapy Solutions website in the "floor products" section, and it is AMAZING! I work with kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders, and its great for their sensory processing needs. It supports the weight of a full-sized adult.

Feb. 04 2011 02:49 PM
Irvin from Plainfield, VT

Does anyone have links to the web sites that were referenced in this show. I would like to take the face and spacial blindness quiz.

Feb. 03 2011 06:24 PM
Doug Kaufman

Brilliant show, guys; loved every second. Beautiful sound design.

--------
dougkaufman.net

Feb. 01 2011 10:32 PM

@ Rebecca from Illinois

I had the same question as others who have previously posted about the 90 degree shift. Your explanation helps a bit, but it seems to be more parallel to a loss of control over one's body.

Any help with a more descriptive (I know it must be hard to describe) explanation of what Sharon's condition <i> seems like </i> to her when it occurs would be greatly appreciated.

Feb. 01 2011 09:55 PM
Rebecca from Illinois

I've been lying awake trying to find a way to describe this rotation disorientation for the people who have had trouble understanding it. The best parallel I've come up with is to compare it to old video games, when you'd drink the wrong potion or walk into the wrong pixel and suddenly your character is upside down. The challenge was that to move left on the screen, you suddenly had to press the right arrow key. You could figure it out if you thought about it really hard, but it took a long time to become instinctive.

I think the orientation of buildings becomes as much a part of their characteristics as the color of their paint or the shape of their roofs. If I'm turned around, a building can be as totally unrecognizable as if a second story had been added. (I also am increasingly face-blind and really dependent on hair characteristics- wonder if this is related?)

Jan. 31 2011 03:06 PM
Jeremy

What's the forum that she talks about being the moderator of?

Jan. 31 2011 01:56 PM
Currerbell from New Zealand

This was a fabulous programme. I've had this experience since I was a child but fortunately my grandmother had it as well and she described it to me when I was very young so I knew I wasn't the only one. All the same, I've kept quiet about it. I've lived in the same small town for over 14 years but I still come out of shops and think everything has shifted over to the other side of the street. I just stand still for a while and sometimes it clears.

Jan. 30 2011 01:54 PM
Gayle from San Diego

I am almost always 180 degrees off, in my "senselessness" of direction. I've always joked (what else can you do) that I have a lesion in the map module of my brain, but this RLab piece actually tells me where my brain cells fall short. It's been embarrassing and frustrating, my whole life, to not recognize the direction I need to go to get to and from places I've been to numerous times--I always get lost, and never understood why I have above-average intelligence, yet can't find my way out of a paper bag--which I need while hyperventilating in my state of panic, adrift in what should be familiar terra. I see that others, like the Sharons, have it even worse. To not recognize your own backyard--eek.

Jan. 30 2011 01:24 PM

@John from Wash.DC
Like you, I have a superb sense of direction and have had since I was a small child. Can count on one hand the number of times I've been "lost." However, in Berkeley around the campus, where I've been on continuous occasions all my life, I consistently have my compass points off by 90 degrees. I'll say "north" when it should be "east." I have to monitor my speech when I'm there to be certain I don't mis-speak. All I can figure is that something imprinted incorrectly in my 2-year old brain and has never altered since. I'm not lost there -- just the directions come out wrong!

Jan. 29 2011 07:21 PM

I sometimes feel bad about having a worse than average sense of direction. Sharon, who was having a harder time than me, really inspired me with her joy when she reached Nordstrom with her friend. If it's hard for you to find your way, don't feel bad, just congratulate yourself when you do!

Jan. 28 2011 07:17 PM
Rebecca from Illinois

Since I was very young, I grew enormously attached to the compass points, but I never quite got the hang of left and right. My first year of college I learned to find my way around by the campus map, only to discover two weeks in (when I could actually see the sun in the morning) that the map I was using had east up. I got totally disoriented, lost all the progress I had made, and had to start learning campus all over.

In new places- especially in suburban subdivisions with their twisty disdain for neat squares- I frequently lose my compass points, and once I figure out where they are I get very dizzy until my brain has "reset". In the city I recently moved to, my "up" has somehow shifted north to match the map, whereas growing up my "up" was east. That in itself has been a long adjustment.

Jan. 28 2011 01:10 PM
Tim from Manhattan Burbs

Short story that might be food for thought for folks who posted above. Metro-North into Grand Central was my daily commute into Manhattan. Would often sleep in the am on the way in. Routine was wake up, when the train went into the tunnel at 125th and stand by the door for a quick exit in GCT. One AFTERNOON I left work early. Had been working long and late, was exhausted. Got on a train that wasn't scheduled to leave for 20 mins and promptly fell asleep. Woke up in the tunnel! Confused and groggy, I assumed I was on my way IN to work, and still struggling with "what day is it?" I got up and stood by the door. Except instead of slowly pulling into GCT the train blew out of the tunnel into full sunlight heading Northbound at 40 mph. This event totally stripped my gears and for the next 40 mins I struggled with where I was. I knew the train, but my brain COULD NOT reconcile. I had been turned 180 and it did not fit with my imprint. I got off at my stop - with 200 other people and could not tell which stair to go up to cross into the parking lot (I had been doing this for 10 years!) I followed the crowd, and it wasn't until I was safely in my car until my orientation returned. The feeling of being disconnected stayed with me for hours after. One of the strangest experiences of my life.

Jan. 28 2011 05:19 AM
Kevin from California

I definitely had difficultly understanding the condition. In many ways it sounded like a simple 90° rotation, which would seem akin to suddenly noticing you were facing 90° to the side. In this case, I'd assume the disorientation would be easily solved by turning 90°.

However, I suspect this is not what is being described, as Jad makes a reference to the rotation applying horizontally only (or something like that). Would love for someone from the show to explain, if they can. It was definitely extremely difficult to understand.

Jan. 27 2011 11:31 PM
John from Washington DC

I experience something similar to this, and only in a specific way;

99% of the time I have a dead on sense of direction (north/south/east/west) -- but in Penn Station in NYC (I am a native new yorker so this isn't touristitis or something) my sense of north/south gets completely mixed up. Even though I know the LIRR entrance on 7th avenue is the north east side, my sense of direction inverts there and tells me I am walking to the south west.

Also, where I work -- my sense of direction is always confused when I am walking away from the (several) MRI machines.

Being a skeptic though, all I can do is shrug and say to myself "confirmation bias" and "if its not bias, I still don't know what it is."

Point being, while I can't empathize with Sharon's experience fully, I do experience a version of it in a very narrow way... albeit rarely.

Jan. 27 2011 08:07 PM
Kevin

Which direction is the "90 degree rotation"? Clock or counter-clockwise?

What kind of spin could fix the problem? direction? speed?

Any explanation why spinning around could "fix" the problem?

If actions/external factors can cause and fix the problem, then genetic disorder alone is not the whole story.

Jan. 27 2011 04:01 PM
Guinevere from Portland, Oregon

"Big Ass Sit-n-Spin" is a real thing! It's called a Roundabout Rotating Disc and holds up to 250 lbs. It's like a sit n spin, without the stupid plastic handle.

http://www.amazon.com/Pacific-Pediatric-Supply-Round-A-Bout-Rotating/dp/B002EIU22W/ref=pd_sbs_sg_5

Jan. 27 2011 12:26 PM
kris burton from Michigan

I have this condition, It is most awful. I have quite the sence of humor and there is nothing to laugh about for me......
I have been very late picking my son up at homes where he has been that I have been to several times before. ...driving in a panic and wiping away tears. " MOM, you have been here before" this was before GPS's in the stores. And, for many yearsm getting lost in my workplaces that I am in all the time...I know I have been in these buildings many times and on this floor, but I am lost, nothing looks familiar. and roads I have driven on , that have never looked driven on....my hippocampus is not mine

Jan. 27 2011 12:12 AM
Phylan from Washington, DC

Just to clarify what I'm confused about:

If I closed my eyes, and did anything akin to stumbling around, or spinning in circles, and, while I was doing so, absolutely everything -- <i>everything</i> -- around me rotated 90 degrees, I would not be disoriented when I opened my eyes again; everything in my world would be in the same place in relation to every other thing in that world. I would have no way of telling what had occurred. Sharon must have some <i>absolute</i>, not relative, mental point of reference to be so completely thrown off by a thing like that.

Jan. 26 2011 06:56 PM
Phylan from Washington, DC

I was left with an interesting question after this one. I don't doubt Ms. Roseman's account in the least, but I do wonder: if "everything in the universe," as she put it, was rotated 90 degrees, how could she tell the difference? Assuming, as was the case when she was playing Blind Man's Bluff or Pin the Tail on the Donkey, that she did not witness the actual rotation, how would she perceive that it occurred, if absolutely everything had rotated and there was no stable point of reference? I was hoping one of you would ask. Great episode as usual.

Jan. 26 2011 06:25 PM
Steven from New Jersey

Great episode! I could relate to Sharon is a very small way. I have a horrible sense of direction, and I often get very disoriented when I enter and exit stores, especially in a mall. I've come out of stores or even public bathrooms and totally don't recognize where I am. I wouldn't say it is anything serious or even close to Sharon's condition, but perhaps that part of my brain is missing a few of those cells spoken about in the episode! :)

Jan. 26 2011 04:54 PM

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