General Question

Mariah's avatar

How unusual is this? Is it some kind of condition?

Asked by Mariah (25829points) May 19th, 2015

Not worried, just curious.

I am incredibly spatially impaired. For example, I didn’t know how to get to my high school until I first drove there myself; it wasn’t far from my house and I had lived in the same place my whole life.

Once I do know an area, I’m easily thrown off by anything unusual – I distinctly remember not recognizing my neighborhood when trick-or-treating as a kid, because I usually wasn’t outside at night.

Another example, I just graduated college last weekend and my campus is very small, so over the past four years I’ve come to know it very well. But I found the landscape so transformed by the crowds of parents and graduates during the ceremony that I actually got confused about where I was a couple of times.

I get very overwhelmed by trying to take in information when I’m somewhere new, which has made driving very difficult for me; I am constantly afraid that I haven’t noticed everything I need to know about an intersection, for example.

Is this terribly strange? Is it indicative of some kind of disorder?

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13 Answers

hominid's avatar

I have always experienced this – or at least it sounds familiar. Prior to GPS, it was nearly impossible for me to get somewhere, even if I had been there a thousand times. I’m going to speculate about what I think may happen with me

I am curious and not entirely focused when I’m moving from one place to another. There are sights, sounds, and the thoughts in my head that keep me from seeing the landscape in front of me as a series of directions and landmarks to be navigated. When on campus, I recall finding myself “lost” – even just for a few moments – when I realized that I had been fascinated by the activity happening all around me.

Mariah's avatar

^—Definitely; when being driven somewhere I’m always looking out the window observing/thinking about my surroundings, but definitely not really noticing or memorizing the various turns we’re taking. Good to hear it isn’t just me, lol.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Laughs, I have a great sense of direction, if I can see the sun. I used to go out in the woods, spin around and then try to walk out.

snowberry's avatar

It’s brain orientation. I have all sorts of issues like that. PM me for details if you like @Mariah.

dxs's avatar

I remember in my Psych 101 class there was a concept called the “visual sketchpad” ('s_model_of_working_memory#Visuospatial_sketchpad). Perhaps yours is lacking. I feel terrible saying that…obviously I’m not a psychologist or anything, and it’s an abstract concept. I have problems with direction as well. I can find my way around, but tend to not know if I’m going east, north, or what. I even have to think about east vs. west (by holding my hands and seeing which one makes an “L”. OK, that’s left, now I have to translate it to east/west) Today I was in a square that I’d only been in one other time before and thought south was north. If it’s a station I’m not at frequently I often times can’t even tell which way the subway is going to arrive from. I can get sooo disoriented.

jerv's avatar

I am going to guess that you also have issues doing math in your head and/or have difficulty with facial recognition. Am I right?

stanleybmanly's avatar

It’s been my experience that people are particularly bad at finding their way to places if they’ve only previously arrived as passengers. I know it’s certainly true for me. Fortunately the wife is like a homing pigeon. When we travel, she always drives and can unerringly retrace any route

rojo's avatar

I spent my adult life working construction and it always amazed me that I could be standing in a home with all the wood stud walls erected and the homeowner (and many subcontractors) could not visualize the various rooms. It was so clear to me, even if only the plates were on the slab but for many people, until the sheetrock was on the walls they could not picture what the interior of the house looked like.

Like @Adirondackwannabe I have a pretty good sense of direction and unconsciously seem to keep track of twists and turns so I may not know where I am but know where it is I want to be or where I came from. I have noticed, however, that as I get older, it is not as instinctive and I have to work at it now.

Buttonstc's avatar

I’m also bad at remembering how to get from one place to another, particularly when driving.

However, all my life ever since I first began to drive I ALWAYS had a good map of the area in my car at all times. If I can see it on a map, then I have no problems at all.

This was the primary reason
I always renewed my AAA membership every year. Their maps and Tripticks are the best.

This was also my primary motivation for getting my iPhone. When I read a Consumer Reports article mentioning that in addition to a phone, it was also a GPS system, that did it for me.

So, I’m curious about something. When driving, why would you bother trying to commit various routes to memory when you can have a GPS system in your pocket?

It makes life so much easier. And you don’t necessarily have to get an iPhone since Android has the same mapping capabilities (and there are even various Apps designed for walking or bicycling also.)

There was a good friend of mine from my Philly days who had the same navigation problems and her “solution” was just to avoid having to drive to new unfamiliar places.

I tried to teach her how to use maps to navigate (which would have taken all of 15 mins or so) but she simply refused saying she wouid never be able to figure out how to use a map. Good grief. The only thing you need to know is your starting and ending points and there’s nothing to it.

But she preferred to stay locked into her tiny little world where everything was familiar. Go figure.

So, I’m curioua about something; do you have a smartphone (or a AAA membership?) If not, then why not? Either of those would help you greatly.

longgone's avatar

I am constantly making people laugh with my distracted sense of direction. With me, I think it’s due to a general inattention to detail. I don’t notice when haircolours change, grass has been cut, or people drive new cars.

@jerv “I am going to guess that you also have issues doing math in your head and/or have difficulty with facial recognition. Am I right?”

No to the former, but a definite yes to the latter. I’m curious – what’s your point?

jerv's avatar

@longgone I know a few people who are as bad with directions as you are. As @dxs and @rojo alluded to, there is generally a connection between being bad with directions and having issues visualizing in general. Lacking an “internal clock” and difficulty judging quantities/distances are other common things.

Dyscalculia is estimated to affect 3–6% of the population.

longgone's avatar

@jerv Thanks for teaching me something new!

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

Try mental rotation tests, such as this one. If you can do it, then you’re fine. People vary in approaches and speed that they can complete the test, and some spatially impaired people can’t do it at all without having a defined disorder. However if you can’t do it, in conjunction with other symptoms, it may be worth further investigation.

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