Hypersensitivity vs Hyperawareness

As part of a recent assessment, I was asked a number of questions about my sensory experience. One of the questions was “Do you tend to notice sounds that others don’t notice?”.

Of course the answer is “yes”, but when I went into more depth and started analysing *why* I notice sounds that others don’t, I realised that it is probably somewhat related to why I see things that others don’t. No, that sounds like I hallucinate; what I mean is, that I notice things in my field of vision that others don’t, just like I notice sounds that others don’t.

The seemingly logical assumption for the reason why one would notice sounds that others don’t notice is that they are hypersensitive to sound – as in, their ears (or perhaps their brain) experiences aural stimulation as louder than how other people experience it. They notice these sounds simply because, while for other people the sounds are below the threshold for “being heard”, the sounds come through “loud and clear” for people who are hypersensitive.

So why then do I see things that others don’t? Visual hypersensitivity generally causes everything to appear brighter than for a normal person, just like aural hypersensitivity causes things to sound louder than for a normal person. Indeed, many visually hypersensitive people find a well-lit room to be painfully bright, and I can’t say that I don’t experience this at times myself too. But just because things are brighter doesn’t mean that I’m going to see things that others don’t – indeed things that “hide in the shadows” for normal people may be clearly visible for me, but that doesn’t even begin to account for the number of extra things that I notice.

The key, thus, is in the word “notice”. It’s not necessarily¬†that the things are more prominent due to being louder/brighter; my hypothesis is that it’s to do with sensory awareness. Whereas normal people may well see/hear these things, they filter them out because they focus only on the input that they are actively processing – such as a conversation that they are having – and ignore anything else. And that’s a good thing at times, too: it certainly means that they can have a conversation even if there is a lot of background noise, unlike me who can’t even hear what the other person is saying! So thus we can conclude that I *don’t* filter out other sensory stimulation; I process absolutely all of the stimulation that enters my senses. That’s why I see things that others don’t: they don’t even notice them because they are not processing that stimulation; I do notice them because I am processing all of the stimulation that I receive. That’s why I call it “hyperawareness” – I am exceptionally (excessively?) aware of background sensory input.

That’s also why I can’t hold a conversation when there’s too much background noise: I can’t block out the background noise and separate out the person’s voice!

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