I have this phenomenon that happens to me a lot when I'm coding. I'll be typing the same word many times in a row, and after a long time of looking at it and typing it, the word starts to look really odd to me, and I wonder if perhaps it is misspelled. It happens even with short, ordinary words. The other day the word "cluster" started jumping out at me and I couldn't tell if it was spelled correctly. This happened to me more when I was younger, and it always happened during periods of exceptionally intense focus. I had thought that it might have something to do with my brain switching between the left and right lobes.
I was reminded about this when I saw the spinning dancer illusion posted at Cognitive Daily
, and I emailed Mo, the Cognitive Daily blogger, about it. Here's what he had to say:
I'm not sure exactly why the phenomenon you describe occurs, but it sounds like an analgous situation that occurs in the condition known as occupational dystonia, whereby a highly skilled sportsperson, or musician (or basically anyone who performs specific patterns of motor activity over and over) sometimes experiences muscular spasms that temporarily prevent them from performing those actions.
I'll hazard a guess that the phenomenon you describe happens because repeatedly processing the same information in a short period of time causes a temporary "blow-out" of the underlying neural circuitry, which is being stretched to its functional limits. This is what neuroscientists believe causes dystonia.
I remember as a youngster, I often experienced something very similar: if I kept saying the same word over and over again (either out loud or even, I think, just in my head), I would come to a point at which that word sounded very strange, and I could no longer recall its meaning!
I remember repeating words to the point at which they suddenly failed to denote when I was young as well. I kind of like the idea that parts of my brain may be temporarily blowing out, although that doesn't sound like a good thing.
The Spinning Dancer: Which way does she spin for you?