I've been doing some research on what is termed a "Highly Sensitive Person"(HSP). From the wikipedia article on the subject:
"(HSP) is a condition hypothesized by Elaine Aron in her book, The Highly Sensitive Person. It claims that highly sensitive people process sensory data exceptionally deeply and thoroughly due to a biological difference in their nervous systems. This is a specific trait with key consequences that in the past has often been confused with innate shyness, inhibitedness, innate fearfulness, introversion, and so on. Although the term is primarily used to describe humans, the trait is present in nearly all higher animals."
According to research, "15-20% of humans and higher animals have a nervous system that is more sensitive to subtleties. This means that regular sensory information is processed and analyzed to a greater extent, which contributes to creativity, intuition, sensing implications and attention to detail, but which may also cause quick overstimulation and overarousal."
I can relate to this. I've spent most of my life feeling as if I have no skin on. Like I have no filter, no protection between me and the outside world. Interestingly, this description of feeling like you're walking around without skin is a common statement made by people with this condition. I was in tears as I read it in one of Aron's books.
Aron describes this HSP condition not as an illness but as a genetic selection, similar to being tall, or having blue eyes. Some people just sense their environment more acutely.
I realize this trait is my blessing and my curse. On a good day, it allows me to sense what other people are feeling, without them even needing to voice it. On a bad day, it allows me to sense what other people are feeling, without them even needing to voice it.
I can empathize on a very deep level. It's the reason I don't watch the news or really violent films. All the sensory information is too much. I feel it in my body as if I'm there. It's also why I find crowds difficult. Imagine trying to filter the conversations of 100 different people if they were all speaking directly into your ear at the same time. Then add in light, background noise, smells and emotions. That's what it's like some days.
And it's why I spend a lot of time alone. I need time to get back in my body. To feel like I'm in my skin again. Sometimes I don't leave the house for days at a time. But I'm content. I like my company.