What is the physiological explanation of the “thousand-yard stare”?


You know that look… when someone is staring into the distance, but not looking at anything in particular. Sometimes associated with deep thought — or a complete absence of thought! You wave your hands in front of their eyes: “anybody there?” — then they snap back to reality.

Why do humans do that? What’s happening to the eyes, exactly, that we recognize that “look” as such? Is there an actual term for it? What’s the relationship between the brain and the eyes in that context?

In: 40

>Is there an actual term for it?

It’s simply an outdated term for what we now call PTSD, and one of the symptoms is dissociation (detachment from reality).

Not everyone who spaces out has PTSD, some are just lost in thought and not living ‘in the moment’. I used to be like that (spacing out a lot, not paying attention to my surroundings) because I was an overthinker, and people would describe me as ‘distant’ or ‘not paying attention’ if we were talking.

I had to work really hard on that to focus on social situations, be an active listener and be situationally aware. It’s not a skill everyone is necessarily born with.

We pick up a lot of little details we are not fully aware of when interacting with people. Unconsciously tracking what other people are looking at, their facial expressions and it’s changes, and body language all play roles in a person to person conversation.

When someone’s eyes are unfocused, because they are too lost in their own minds, they don’t have the slightly crossed eyed effect of looking at something in their general vicinity. Their faces are often slack and their eyes are not moving around like someone being aware of their surroundings

This gives the impression they are staring at something far far away, when really they are not looking at anything or really aware of what they are looking at.

I have that stare, and I don’t have any kind of PTSD or major traumatic experiences.

The stare is very easy (at least for me) to do. It’s the result of both eyes looking straight ahead, therefore, not focusing on anything. It kind of makes your entire field of vision slightly blurry.

And I use it for thinking. If I’m not visually focused on anything, it’s easier for my mind to process information. So I just stare off in a direction, not focused on anything, and contemplate whatever it is I’m thinking about.

Those are 2 different things: the thousand yard stare and spacing off.

Spacing off is when your eyes are glazed over as you stare into the space on front of you. Usually there is an expression like a furrowed brow or a listless expression.

The thousand yard stare was an expression that came from WW1 to describe the expression of wide eyes and dialated pupils after a soldier experienced [Shell Shock](https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shell_shock) after an intense battle. Its a combination of having to constantly stare as far away as you can to see the enemy before they see you and react and seeing the horrors of watching your friends die horribly or too rapidly to process. Physically, your body does what its trained to do when in battle but you need to process that afterwards emotionally and thats when the thousand yard stare occurs. If the person is not given time to process then the brain will “disconnect” and the person will go into a dream like state in an attempt to distance themselves from the event even if its happening in front of them. Similar to people witnessing a mass casualty event where they freeze.. The same expression is seen with regular people who have witnessed events that are extremely traumatic unexpectedly or for long periods of time. PTSD is the current medical term for it yes, but the term PTSD encompasses alot more than just that. Also, not everyone with PTSD will have the thousand yard stare from what I understand.