'I literally feel your pain': what life's like with mirror-touch synesthesia
"Roughly 1.5% of the population are believed to experience it, but mirror-touch isn’t a clinical condition and there's no medical diagnosis for it."
“He ran his right finger down the right side of his face,” Joel Salinas tells me, speaking over the phone from Massachusetts. “I felt the finger down the left side of my face. He said, ‘Yeah, that’s absolutely not normal’."
Joel, 34, is referring to the neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran, who he visited after suspecting he might have synesthesia.
When he was growing up, Joel assumed that everyone felt other people’s emotional or physical sensations just by looking at them, like he did.
“If I see somebody with a pair of glasses, I’ll feel a sensation of the glasses on my nose as if they were on my face,” Joel explains.
But in 2005, during a trip to India as part of his medical training (Joel is a neurologist at Massachusetts’ General Hospital), a fellow student started talking about a group of people who “see colours in sounds and have tastes for textures”.
These people have a perceptual condition known as synesthesia . Over 60 different types of synesthesia have been reported, from grapheme-colour, where numbers and letters have colours, to auditory-tactile, where sounds can lead to sensations in the body.
Pharrell’s protégée singer-songwriter, Maggie Rogers, is amongst a number of celebrities, including Lady Gaga and Pharrell himself, to report having at least one form of synesthesia.