I have multiple expressions of synaesthesia, a neurological trait that confers blended senses. Some people have just one form of synaesthesia, while others have several varieties. Polysynaesthetes like me might have any number of the more than 80 different synaesthesias that are the topics of current academic research. My prominent manifestations of synaesthesia include:
time units->color synaesthesia
number form synaesthesia
mirror touch synaesthesia
All of these conflated perceptions have been with me since my earliest memories. Most continue to be part of my daily experience, such as the ticker-tape synesthesia I experience when I hear people speak. A few, such as taste->color/pattern synaesthesia pop up occasionally, a phenomenon documented by Alexandra Kirshner and Danko Nikolic in their academic paper “One Shot Synesthesia” published in Translational Neuroscience.
Mirror-sensory synaesthesias dominate my perceptual world; my vision, my mirror neurons and the dermatomes that innervate my skin are united in a strange fusion of sensation. Although I didn’t learn the word “synaesthesia” until I was an adult, some of my earliest childhood recollections include mirror-sensory experiences, and the dissonance that comes with feeling in my body what I perceive with my eyes.
I have three different presentations of mirror-sensory synaesthesia:
Mirror-proprioception makes me involuntarily move in unison with the movements of other people. For example, when I see dancers performing on stage, the muscles in my legs twitch and contract in sync with the movements executed by the performers.
Synaesthesia-for-pain is a strange and discomfiting sensation. When I see another person’s wounds, I get shocks of stinging pain that shoot from my hips to my heels. It doesn’t matter if this injury is real or depicted in a film or novel; the instant I see it or read it, flashes of something akin to electricity course down my legs. If I’m deeply affected by what I see, or if I am really tired, I will also feel pain in the back of my arms and across my chest following the path of the thoracic dermatomes.
Mirror-touch synesthesia means I feel in my body what I see happening to the bodies I witness. If I am looking at you, and I see a cut on your left hand, I will feel it on my right hand. Another example comes from my years fencing with an historical rapier school. It was always a challenge to counter my opponent’s movements when my brain is oriented towards mimicking and mirroring that person.
This trait of synaesthetic mirroring is most evident in my work. I’m a licensed massage therapist, and when I watch my hands mobilizing my client’s muscles and soft tissue, I feel as if I’m the one getting the massage. This is an exceptional benefit in the practice of manual therapy, and I believe mirror-touch synaesthesia is the key to my career’s longevity. According the the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average LMT/CMT leaves the field after just 7 years in practice; I have passed my 28th anniversary as a Certified Massage Therapist.
The International Association of Synaesthetes, Artists, and Scientists is an organization that advances awareness of the neurological phenomena of synaesthesia through support for academic, creative, and community projects. IASAS encourages collaboration among synaesthetes, artists, scientists, and persons interested in synaesthesia and the synaesthetic experience. Through public lectures and presentations, creative exhibits, online communities, and educational outreach, the International Association of Synaesthetes, Artists, and Scientists fosters interest, understanding, and acceptance of synaesthesia as an expression of human neurodiversity. I am a founding member of IASAS, and I sit on the executive board in the role of secretary. To learn more about the IASAS, click here.