- Curiosity about tachysensia hit hundreds of thousands of readers in 2021. Today, we now know more about it.
- Along with neurologists, we created and disseminated a survey of people experiencing tachysensia.
- A surprising number of people have experiences where the world feels as if it's moving faster than it is.
Two and a half years ago I asked my Psychology Today blog readers if there was such a thing as tachysensia? I did not know what that word meant before a friend told me that he was worried about one of his students having an occasional strange feeling that everything in her sight and mind was moving far faster than expected. She is a young musician and student at the University of Miami who experienced frightening spells that lasted between five and ten minutes. While in these spells, she played her pieces prestissimo, though they were never meant to be played at such an astonishingly fast speed.
She was experiencing an episode of “tachysensia,” a sense of time and space discord between what is happening and what appears to be happening. Added to her symptoms were frightening sounds of distant shouting. Some shouts were unintelligible. Others were quite clear. She would hear her name and fall asleep, but on awakening, she would hear someone calling her name, though no one would be there.
As the author of a book about time and timing, I felt curious and obliged to investigate further, looking everywhere for clues, starting with Wikipedia and ending with consultations—friends, psychiatrists, neurologists, and general practitioners. At that time, no one knew about the condition beyond its connections with Alice in Wonderland Syndrome. Soon after the first few of my early tachysensia postings that attracted hundreds of thousands of readers, several research neurologists, particularly specialists in migraines, contacted me to set up a survey to collect data from readers who experienced moments of fast-feeling symptoms.
Along with the survey came hundreds of email messages from all over the world, almost all with remarkably similar stories. Though I replied to almost every person who wrote to me, I still feel that I owe them the latest information, if for no other reason than giving back a sense of control to what otherwise would be a bewildering feeling of something gone wrong when nothing is terribly wrong.
What did we learn?
One particularly consistent symptom is the duration. Almost all claimed that their episodes lasted on average between five and 15 minutes and happened on average between four and eight times per year. The distant shouting voices were less consistent, and few talked about headaches accompanying the visions. Many readers were frightened, especially the many children (of ages 12 to 16) who had not told their parents.
With that knowledge, my neurologist associates were comfortable enough to label the syndrome a type of migraine that is symptomatically different from Alice in Wonderland Syndrome.
What causes a fast feeling?
First note: I am neither a psychiatrist nor neurologist, but rather a mathematician and science journalist who has researched and written extensively about time, space, and speed. To start, let us consider how the body understands the passing of time. Any conscious sense of time comes to us through our experiences in the physical world. Frequently, we are aware of time, yet we're often not. We are almost always anticipating the future.
The closest neurological understanding of the tachysensia phenomenon is what one would expect to happen when billions of neurons are active 24 hours a day. With such a squall of electrical activity, there likely will be short-circuited moments when the brain’s synchronization to circadian time misfires because of a blip of electro- or biochemical interference. The brain miraculously follows a complex synchronization between what it expects of the world and what the body needs to stay healthy. With that knowledge, my neurologist associates were comfortable enough to label the experience different enough from Alice in Wonderland Syndrome, as it distorts time and space rather than scale.
It is surprising that such blips do not happen to everyone. It's also possible they do and we don’t notice them. Spells of tachysensia are occasional, but they do produce strange mind speeds that understandably ignite emotions of fear, awe, stress, and changes in body temperature. Perhaps a few moments of speed-sense misfiring should be celebrated as glorious moments that could be reminders that we are humans who can perceive times that do not align with familiarity; that is, what the brain expects from what happened in the past.
One among many positive informative results of our tachysensia survey is that spells tend to diminish with age. Some older people miss the spirit of their spells.
Please understand that no person—even a neurologist, psychiatrist, or physician—can diagnose conditions from afar without a battery of questions and honest answers; however, if a person experiences episodes of fast feeling for less than 15 minutes and no more than a half-dozen times a year, it is most likely that the syndrome is a form of migraine. That said, you should consult your doctor if you have any concerns. If you are not an adult, you should tell your parents. Keeping anxieties private only exacerbates fears. Telling your story will bring you more comfort. In doing so, the odds are high that others have similar stories happily told.
There are over 8 billion of us out there. My guess is that there are a good number who have experienced at least one tachysensia episode. If you've had such an experience, you are not alone.
Osman Farooq MD, Edward J. Fine MD, “Alice in Wonderland Syndrome: A Historical and Medical Review,” Pediatric Neurology, 77 (2017) 5-11.