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Sensory Overload

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General Zod: [Pained by an onslaught of noise]... What have you done to me?!
Superman: My parents taught me to hone my senses, Zod.
[Zod falls to his knees in agony, horrified that he can see the bones in his hand.]
Superman: To focus on just what I wanted to see. Without your helmet... you're getting everything.
[Zod begins writhing and grunting on the ground as the sounds overwhelm him.]
Superman: ...And it hurts... Doesn't it?!
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One strategy for disabling someone without permanently incapacitating them is to debilitate them by overloading their senses. In some cases, an intensely bright light or loud noise is just as effective as a Tap on the Head, and can allow easy capture. If that fails, it's another form of Look Behind You, without having to actually talk to the opponent.

This is a common tactic against those with Super Senses because it turns a strength into a weakness. Technology or magic may grant Badass Normals super-human senses that can be exploited this way. Often exploited against characters wearing night-vision goggles by turning on a light. Used against a machine, this often results in Readings Are Off the Scale. In a Video Game, this is likely to be represented as an Interface Screw of some sort. A character with Disability Immunity might be immune to this kind of attack.

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Hollywood tends to portray this with echoey sound effects, blurred images, or a Fish-Eye Lens.

See also Poke in the Third Eye, First Time Feeling, and Sensory Abuse. Compare Sense Loss Sadness; My Skull Runneth Over, which is a mental overload; and Too Much for Man to Handle, which is a power overload.


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • The title character of Inuyasha is laid low by overpowering smells a few times thanks to his keen doglike nose. It mostly happens coincidentally, though, rather than being intentional on the part of an enemy.
  • Used for comical effect in Karin, where it is revealed that the Vampire's famous aversion to Garlic basically just comes down to enhanced senses, including a very strong sense of smell... so it won't kill them, but they sure will retreat in a hurry, pinching their noses.
  • In Change 123, during the guerrilla mission into the American military base on Okinawa, these kind of tactics are used by Tsukishima against tracker dogs and by Hino against a soldier using night vision goggles.
  • Fairy Tail:
    • Kyôka, the leader of the nine demon gates, has the ability to alter a person's senses. She uses this to greatly increase Erza's sense of pain, making her scream in agony with even the slightest of hits.
    • Larcade of the Spriggen 12 plays it the other way, killing his opponents by destroying their minds with pleasure.
  • Several times in Fullmetal Alchemist, most notably using ammonia from dynamite to knock out two chimæra.
  • In Pokémon when Team Rocket uses a foul smelling gas to deaden the sense of smell of a bunch of Growlithe as part of their plan.
    • Also comes into play with Gloom, which produces a smell bad enough to knock out people and Pokémon. This is a rather big problem for Ash when facing Erika's.
  • Code Geass: When a telepath geass user was exposed to a massive crowd, the character has a mental breakdown.
  • In Tiger & Bunny, Kotetsu attempts to use an ultrasonic grenade to defeat Jake's super hearing. However, it is just a ruse to overcome Jake's true power, mind reading, and the "ultrasonic" grenade is really a flashbang.
  • Naruto: Naruto once beats Kiba by accidentally farting into Kiba's super-sensitive nose, when poor Kiba had his smell sense enhanced with chakra. It has since become a Running Gag; any time Naruto farts, Kiba is somewhere within range.
  • Sonic X: As a bat, Rouge has sensitive ears, and can therefore be disabled by loud, high-pitched noises.
  • In One Piece, Chopper (being a Reindeer) is susceptible to pungent odours and is nearly knocked out when Nami puts some fancy perfume on, but Sanji use this as an advantage later on, by asking Nami to spray herself again so Chopper can find them.
    • Aisa from Skypeia was born with Kenbunshoku Haki or "Mantra" which allows her to sense auras around her, but being a small girl she freaks out when she senses a particularly badass presence (such as Wyper) or when she feels people dying around her.
  • In the Cyborg 009 2001 series, this happens twice to Francoise/003:
    • In the flashbacks, 003 was thrown into the middle of a battlefield right after being turned into a 00-Cyborg, freaking out over the excessive amount of noise from the weapons firing at her thanks to her enhanced hearing, and barely understanding what was going on. 002/Jet had to pull her out of the battlefield and explain what happened.
    • The Black Ghost group once used a special sound bomb to mess with her Super Senses during an underwater combat. It briefly worked.
  • In Dragon Ball, Goku nearly passes out when he gets a whiff of Bacterian, a fighter that has never taken a bath in his life and causes people with a normal sense of smell to cover their nose and cry in disgust. Poor Goku even gets to lampshade the trope, saying his nose is so sensitive that he can't stand even a bit of Bacterian's stench.
    • Dragon Ball Z: Lord Slug reveals this is actually a key weakness of Namekians as due to their Super Hearing, particularly high frequencies such as whistling will cause them immense pain as Gohan accidentally discovers while innocently whistling around Piccolo. This becomes an advantage when fighting the titular Lord Slug who's also a Namekian, where Gohan exploits this weakness, debilitating Slug long enough for Piccolo (who ripped his own ears off) to give energy to Goku.
  • In Berserk, when Guts decides to kill a giant sea god thing by hacking through its body to its heart, the heart is so huge that the sheer loudness of the heartbeat alone nearly kills him. He does manage to slay it, but afterward, he is deaf, blind, and completely numb from head to toe, and has to be rescued before the sea god sinks beneath the waves. Fortunately, he recovers his senses with some rest.
  • Kaguya from Kaguya-sama: Love is War is very sensitive to strong stimuli, particularly loud noises and foul smells. It's apparently genetic, given than her cousin Maki also can't deal with loud noises.
  • The Elder Sister-like One: A rare benevolent example from the original doujins, in which Chiyo is heavily implied to be gently overwhelming Yuu's mind with pleasures beyond ordinary human perception.

    Comic Books 
  • Marvel Universe:
    • X-Men:
      • Wolverine has super-sensitive hearing, so many villains like to use sonic attacks against him.
      • Fabian Cortez used this on Psylocke, amplifying her telepathic powers while she was on Genosha, an island full of mutant haters. It backfired in the end but the whole experience was very traumatic for her.
      • During Avengers vs. X-Men, a side-issue saw Psylocke fighting Daredevil, and she was briefly overwhelmed when she tried to read his mind, unable to cope with the sheer scale of what Daredevil experiences on a daily basis.
      • Taken Up to Eleven by Jean Grey in The Dark Phoenix Saga. To punish Mastermind for the hubris of trying to control her, she briefly granted him omniscience.
      • Jean herself suffered from this when she was younger, it's brought up again in All-New X-Men where Kitty Pryde has to comfort Jean while she's picking up everybody's thoughts.
      • Dazzler had an attack of multicolored, bright, and strobing lights that would disorient opponents — even those without specialized eyesight.
      • Rogue also tends run into this problem with her Power Parasite Mutation she can risk overloading herself with someone’s else powers or memories. A good example of this is during a early comic Rogue (pre-Heel–Face Turn) absorbed Storm's Weather Manipulation and she nearly destroys the Pentagon since she’s overwhelmed by the power and lacked Storm's experiences. Though this is Depending on the Writer as in some later comics Rogue absorbed Cyclops's Optic Blasts and uses them more easily than Scott himself, in fact she even can turn the blasts off unlike Scott (although it should be noted that it's generally agreed that Scott's lack of control is based on some physical or psychological injury rather than his powers not having a 'natural' off-switch).
      • Mister Sensitive from X-Statix could be defeated by stripping away his special suit. Even a fine mist felt like thousands of needles.
    • Daredevil: Often, this is how villains defeat him due to his Super Senses. The Punisher has also used it on him.
      Punisher: I rigged ultrasonics up an hour ago. Works like silent whistles do on dogs. Every pooch in the neighborhood starts howling. Even with the earplugs I feel like puking my guts up. What it does to those senses of his— I can't even imagine.
    • Spider-Man:
      • Spidey can suffer from this, as several villains have succeeded in overloading his Spider-Sense and big events such as The Dark Phoenix Saga can make Spidey's mind go haywire even though he's nowhere near what's taking place.
      • When he got the power of Captain Universe, Spider-Man freaked out at his senses being able to pick up everything.
    • Domenic of ClanDestine is prone to this, to the point where he sleeps in a sensory deprivation chamber. At one point he tastes chocolate and immediately passes out.
  • During a prison riot in Sillage, one of the aliens kills his enemy by injecting him with his hormones. It is a part of a mating ritual for his species, but the sensation is too overwhelming for any other creature — he basically orgasms him to death.
  • The Transformers: Robots in Disguise: Issue 21 reveals that Soundwave has a form of Synesthesia, a neurological condition that essentially causes one to display a "hidden sense" and perceive letters, numbers, smells, and other such things as colored. All in all, it's portrayed fairly realistically even with a moment where Soundwave has to step away from a group of Decepticons because their emotional behavior is causing him to suffer a sensory overlord.
  • In Superman comics:
    • Superman and Kryptonians, in general, have occasionally been hurt by extremely loud noises. Their Nigh-Invulnerability and their super-hearing apparently cancel each other out. When fighting Silver Banshee Supes describes her scream as "ten atomic bombs going off in your skull", Black Canary and Batman have been able to make Superman bleed from the ears/nose with sonic screams and sonic weapons.
    • Superman: Up, Up and Away!: After one year without his Super Senses, Superman gets briefly overwhelmed by sensory input from his surroundings and the memories from his youth.
    • In "Girl Power", Cyborg uses an ultrasonic device to slow Superboy down.
    • In Red Daughter of Krypton, Lobo knocks Supergirl out via a psychic stunner. Unfortunately for him, she didn't stay down for long, and she was real pissed when she regained consciousness.
    • When Krypto first appears in The Superman Adventures, he goes berserk because he can't handle his Super Senses.
    • In Superman: Brainiac, the Man of Steel eventually wins by knocking the Coluan invader into a swamp, where he's disabled by the overwhelming sensations of all kind of microorganisms crawling over his skin.
    • Last Daughter Of Krypton: Seconds after arriving on Earth, Kara's super hearing starts working. All of sudden, Kara is hearing the noises of a whole planet, and she does not know how to stop it or control it. She shuts her eyes, clutches her head with both hands and falls on her knees while she screams and asks it to stop.
      Kara: (thinking) Ears ringing— Where are these sounds— "...Please...Stop..." coming from?!
    • In The Jungle Line, Clark Kent loses his powers due to Bloodmorel illness; shortly after, his super-hearing returns suddenly and deafeningly while he is crossing the street and passing by several sources of strident noise: a boombox, a drilling machine, a kid shouting…
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (IDW): When the mutant alligator Leatherhead escapes into New York City he is immediately overwhelmed by the sounds and scents and is forced to retreat into the river. This is because he spent the last century and a half in a sterile laboratory.
  • In Invincible, Viltrumites' Super Hearing similar Kryptonians is vulnerable to high frequencies due to their Nighinvulnerability not being internal which leads to particularly messy results with a high enough ultrasonic.
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    Fan Works 
  • John in With Strings Attached is given extremely sharp hearing, which presents a problem for him whenever he's in a city; even the nearly deserted Ta'akan makes it impossible for him to sleep. Luckily he learns to tune it so he doesn't get overwhelmed.
  • Attempted on John during the ambush at Hermit's Rock in The Keys Stand Alone: The Soft World after the attempt to put him to sleep failed. The two guys attacking him hit him with a sonic stunner. While this is painful and disabling, a cry of anguish from George in the forest nearby rouses him to stagger between the trees, and the stunner is thus blocked.
  • The Discworld has young student Assassin Famke Smith-Rhodes-Stibbons being educated in how to thrive in conditions where she can neither see nor hear. After her introduction to the Sensory Deprivation Chamber, designed to deprive her of nearly all her five sensesnote , her tutor explains that after an hour in the Chamber, being suddenly returned to the world outside is not advisable as full light and unmuted everyday sound will be physically painful - she must gradually readjust to normality. Later on, Famke realizes bright light and loud sound can be used as a very effective weapon against somebody coming out of SD.
  • After Noa in Hard Being Pure fully mutates, her sight becomes so good that she can see individual bacteria, along with otherwise imperceptible irregularities in nearly everything around her. It's to the point that she can't open her eyes for more than a second, otherwise she gets too much information and becomes unresponsive.
  • Happens to Izuku Midoriya in Neither a Bird, nor a Plane, It's Deku!, who is Kryptonian in this story. At the tender age of four, he goes from hearing through the otherwise soundproof walls of the police precinct to hearing cries for help, atrocities, and disasters from around the world in the span of a few minutes, mercifully passing out after his brain struggled to process any of this. He manages to stop it by hitting himself in the head when he comes to, but the experience clearly shook him. He has refused to use his Super-Hearing since.
  • Voltron: Duality: Keith undergoes this in the first chapter of "Fight the Universe." Luckily, Akira is there to help him.
  • Subverted in The Emerald Phoenix. During the Heroes vs Villains exercise, Kirishima suggests he cause a huge ruckus so Toru can sneak past Jiro to the objective. It fails because Jiro admits she already trained that weakness out of herself.
  • In the Empath: The Luckiest Smurf story "Remaining Anonymous" (an adaptation of the cartoon show episode "Nobody Smurf"), Empath is incapacitated by Mystico the magical goblin causing him to hear so many voices in his head at the same time when he was turned into a goblin.
  • Elementals of Harmony: It happens several times to Ditzy, given her ability to see magic. Usually, it's near Twilight's house, given the ludicrous amount of magic there, but also happens when meeting the Myojin of Seeing Winds, which to her eyes is a blue giant star five feet from her face.
  • Echoes of Yesterday: Supergirl's super-senses, which she had lost when she arrived in Earth-Bet, return when she's in the middle of a fight. All of sudden she's seeing through people, looking at colors whose existence most of people don't know about, and hearing every noise in the city. She becomes so dazed by the overwhelming visual and aural overload than she actually gets hit by two crooks.
  • Soliloquy: The shrill noise of the precinct's fire alarm going off is enough to send Daredevil into this. He's able to focus once Foggy squeezes his hand. Apparently, Foggy did this every time they had a fire drill in their dorm when they were in law school.
  • Daily Equestria Life with Monster Girl: One of the anti-centaur weapons the Guards use works on this principle. Centaurs have an extremely acute sense of smell, far more so than ponies, so the Guards use spheres filled with the strongest-smelling substances they could find.
  • In Lost Reflections, Lolli Beats uses her echolocation scream to disable a group of mercenaries.
  • In Man of Steel story Daughter of Fire and Steel, Kara gets overwhelmed when she uses her Kryptonian super senses for the first time. Jax-Ur guesses her senses "were enhanced beyond [her] brain's ability to handle it."
    Whatever euphoria she felt before escalated tenfold as her lungs completely filled with the alien atmosphere. Then she twitched as the walls seemed to fade right before her eyes. She could see Jax in the other room and even Zod then the two turned into skeletons and then shapes of bright red light. the sound of the engine, machinery, footsteps as Kryptonians wandered the halls of the ship, all roared in Kara's ears. Everything was so bright and so loud, it was all too much. Screaming, she quickly tapped her helmet once more and its shield reactivated. Kryptonian air quickly replaced the alien air as Kara dropped to her knees, slowly regaining her senses.

    Film - Animation 
  • This is a tactic taught in dragon training on How to Train Your Dragon. Making loud noises disorients dragons long enough for the fighter to strike or head for cover.

    Film - Live Action 
  • Yellowbeard: Harvey "Blind" Pew has incredibly sensitive hearing, so Gilbert blows on a trumpet to disorient him.
  • Happens briefly to Riddick in Pitch Black, when another survivor accidentally shines a flashlight in his super-sensitive eyes.
  • In Tremors, Graboids are super sensitive to sound. This is exploited several times throughout the films and the TV series.
  • In Daredevil, the hero is incapacitated by loud noises briefly a few times.
  • In Man of Steel, Clark Kent suffered from his Super Senses growing up and had to train to focus them. Superman takes advantage of the fact that General Zod and his followers have not had time to train their senses by damaging the helmets they use to filter light and sound. Zod is initially overwhelmed, but manages to adapt fairly quickly thanks to his military training and sheer force of will.
  • Pacific Rim: single-highhandedly piloting Jaegers causes this, resulting in nosebleeds. For this reason Jaegers are mostly piloted by at least 2 people.
  • In Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, American Queenie goes to Paris in hopes of finding her sister who’s there for work. Queenie, being a mind reader, gets overwhelmed by a cacophony of gibberish when she arrives because she’s surrounded by people thinking in French and not English. It overwhelms her senses and she breaks down sobbing in the middle of the street.
  • In Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man uses goggles as part of his costume to focus his enhanced senses, which would otherwise prove distracting while he is out crimefighting. In Spider-Man: Homecoming when Spidey takes the goggles off he is briefly overwhelmed by the chaos around him and Vulture takes the advantage to beat the crap out of him.
  • In Under the Piano, autistic child Rosetta becomes overwhelmed in the marketplace and starts banging her head against a crate.
  • In The Story of Luke, Luke is prone to this. At the beginning, he becomes so overwhelmed at his grandmother's funeral that he screams.
  • In Stand Clear of the Closing Doors, Ricky becomes so overwhelmed and confused by the other passengers' Halloween costumes that he faints.
  • In Midwinter Night's Dream, Jovana is prone to this. When a group of overenthusiastic sports fans surrounds Lazar's car, she cowers and covers her ears; when the audience applauds after the school play, she stands offstage with her hands over her ears instead of bowing.
  • In Son-Rise: A Miracle of Love, Barry reads in a textbook that Raun's autism causes him to be unable to handle all the colors and movement of the world, so he blanks most of it out.
  • In Jack of the Red Hearts, a boy who shares Glory's occupational therapist wears ear protectors because otherwise he can hear water moving through pipes. Later, Glory covers her eyes as Jack moves her through a sunny parking lot.
  • In Molly (1999), Molly explains in a lecture that when she was autistic, the world was a confusing jumble, and she had to hunch in on small, safe things like The Wizard of Oz or a piece of string. When she starts being distracted by other people flipping pages in the library, it's a sign her brain is rejecting the implant.
  • In Keep the Change (2017), one of the people at the autism support group wonders if David seems so withdrawn and unhappy because of sensory overload. In fact, he just doesn't want to be there.

    Literature 
  • Isaac Asimov's novel Second Foundation. A Mind Static device is used to "blind" Second Foundationers with psychic abilities (the "sixth sense").
    • At full power, the device would actually create a "feedback" effect hurting those with Psychic Powers.
  • In the Discworld novels, Angua the Night Watch patrolman has a supernaturally keen sense of smell. One villain comes up with the clever idea of using peppermint bombs to overwhelm her ability to pick up clues that way. This eventually becomes common practice among the more intelligent parts of Ankh-Morpork's underworld.
    • Another Discworld example is Thief of Time: The Auditors of Reality, when they assume human form, are so overwhelmed by their senses that Susan takes them down with chocolate.
  • In Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn novels, burning tin dramatically increases your senses, so one tactic to use against a Tin Eye (people who can only tin) or Mistborn (people who can burn all metals) burning tin is to use bright lights or loud noises. Even though the person can instantly shut down the burn it still takes a second for them to recover from the shock.
  • In The Burning Realm, the Deathlings are victims of a curse-born plague that renders their senses so keen they're almost unbearable. They isolate themselves in a silent, mist-shrouded valley to ensure the disease will not spread, and drape themselves in the lightest and loosest of clothing to minimize the pain of being touched.
  • Frequently, in detective stories, a camera flash is used to blinding effect.
  • Molly of The Dresden Files casts a spell that creates bright lights, multi-colored and flashing. Harry calls it the One-Woman Rave. This comes in especially useful when the team is up against a Zerg Rush army of vampires. Molly's Rave only mildly inconveniences her (mostly) human teammates, but the Super Senses of the vampires are overloaded spectacularly.
    • Earlier, Harry's "Wizard Sight" sense was overwhelmed when he caught a glimpse of the Naagloshii with it. He threw up, staggered to a friend's house, asked for a quiet dark room, and whimpered in there for about an hour. Then got back to work.
  • Uplift series: Acceptors, being designed as living Everything Sensors, are somewhat prone to this.
  • Tom Clancy's Debt Of Honor features a device that makes a burst of light that's so bright it causes temporary paralysis. Not mere incapacitation from blindness, but sensory overload so complete the subjects are entirely overwhelmed.
  • In Artemis Fowl and the Time Paradox, Holly incapacitates a villain by healing his sense of smell (which he'd been born without due to a congenital defect) - in the middle of a Tunesian tannery, which smells horrible even at the BEST of times. Since he'd never smelled anything before, the stench caused a complete sensory overload, knocking him out and inflicting some serious mental trauma in the process.
  • Labyrinths of Echo has Mundane Utility for this. The cuisine of Kuman Khalifate is all sweet — they put honey even in soups and the Master Scenter swears Kuman people themselves smell of honey from such a diet. And they have a dish named "The Summit of Sweetness". It's so sweet that it's not perceived as such, since the eater's taste buds are effectively "blinded" to sweet taste — at least until it's washed away.
  • Jedi in Timothy Zahn's Star Wars Expanded Universe novels can choose to make any or every sense keener the better to hear near-inaudible noises, see in the dark, identify chemicals by scent, etc. Virtually every time they do so, though, they're half-deafened by someone murmuring quietly to them, a dim light, etc. and have to rapidly ramp their senses back down to normal.
  • In the novel Dark Lord, which takes place just after Episode 3 when the Jedi are being hunted down by clones, a group of rogue clones ignores Order 66 and uses EMP grenades to disable their fellow clones that were attempting to ambush the Jedi. As the grenades short out their helmets, that group of clones is somewhat unable to successfully conduct their ambush. This isn't really shown anywhere else as a solution to clones or stormtroopers however.
  • In Tales of Kolmar, Marik of Gundar dons an Invisibility Cloak which also lets him see in the dark. However this also makes any source of light piercing and painful; he likens the full moon to being stabbed in the eye, and is in agony when he suddenly comes upon a lit torch.
  • In The Fall of the House of Usher, one reason why Roderick and Madeline remain in isolation is because their senses have become so acute due to hereditary illness that going out among other people would be overwhelmingly loud/bright/painful.
  • In John Ringo's Troy Rising series, when Tyler Vernon activates his neural implant, he is immediately overwhelmed with on-line advertising, to a level that he cannot hear himself think. He has to be instructed in putting up the correct level of spam and other filters in his 'plant so that he can communicate yet not see things that don't interest him.
  • In Axis of Time, when a "temp" (someone native to the 1940s) first puts on an "uptimer" (one of the arrivals from the 21st century) helmet with a hud displaying lots of information and views from multiple cameras, the man is overwhelmed by it all and asks how anyone can function, let alone fight, with this thing on. The "uptimer" marine who gave it to him chuckles and says it takes thousands of hours of practice to get used to it all and learn to treat it as just another sense.
  • In Devils & Thieves, Jemmie's magic sensitivity only leaves her feeling sick and overwhelmed when surrounded by other kindled, due to the overwhelming mixture of smells and the feeling of magic itself.
  • Xandri Corelel is autistic, so she finds crowds exhausting and overwhelming and eye contact physically painful.
  • In The Golden Hamster Saga, Freddy's sensitive ears and nose make him prone to this. When he first meets Mr. John, he finds the smell of cat and guinea pig so overwhelming that he falls over backwards, then scurries into his cage.
  • Trueman Bradley has Asperger syndrome and finds New York City so loud and overwhelming that he wonders if moving there was a bad idea. To deal with it, he makes special sunglasses that block his peripheral vision and carries around a portable music player.
  • Colin Fischer is prone to this and copes by barking like a dog.
  • Esther Diamond: Vampires don't need to drink blood, but experience this after feeding. Some of them relish it, others are terrified at the prospect considering that they live in the noisy and somewhat smelly Manhattan.
  • Jamisia from This Alien Shore was raised on a space station, so she isn't used to crowds. When she ventures into the marketplace on the metroliner, she becomes severely overwhelmed.
  • In The Outside, Boater spaceships don't have shields to block out light and sound like human-built ships do, so almost everyone aboard is almost incapacitated from overload while entering Jai's atmosphere. Yasira has it worse than the others and ends up in a Troubled Fetal Position, unable to talk or move voluntarily, for some minutes after the landing.
  • In This Other World, Vonika becomes overwhelmed by the bright colors on people's clothes during the ceremony that begins Ha-Ran.
  • Jason from Anything But Typical has PDD-NOS and gets overwhelmed almost every time he goes out in public.
  • The Place Inside the Storm: At school, Tara is frequently overwhelmed by all the lights, sounds, and smells, which distract her to the point where she struggles in school. After she runs away, she finds that she can think much more clearly. The mostly-autistic separist commune where she ends up living is set up to minimize overload.
  • Drea from Harmonic Feedback has spent her whole life living in or near cities, with "jarring sirens, drunk people fighting with their lovers on cell phones, six-inch robo-heels chasing the bus, and the scent of piss on newspaper" that she found unpleasantly intense.
  • Queens of Geek: When Taylor is already worried and stressed, a group of shouting, laughing teenage boys enter the diner and sit behind her. This is the last straw, and she runs back to the hotel room and has a meltdown.
  • At a wedding in Love Anthony, Olivia and Beth both notice an unfamiliar autistic boy rocking back and forth with his hands over his ears before he takes off and runs to a nearby beach.
  • Elizabeth from Miracle Creek remembers Henry covering his ears and rocking at a housewarming party when he was three.
  • "Fairest of All": As a child, Siofra constantly cried from being overwhelmed. Finally her mother told her to either stop crying at the sound of scissors being sharpened, or leave. She took the second option.
  • In a Summer Garment: As a young child, Simon screams at the sound of the washing machine, the vacuum cleaner, and crowds of people. He outgrows most of this after a few years.
  • David from Rules hears everything much louder than most people do. He covers his ears at any sudden noise.
  • In Two Worlds: When Anthony is mainstreamed, he's allowed to leave class five minutes early to avoid the crowds in the hallways. Even with this accommodation, he often has trouble retaining his equilibrium.
  • Jack from Because of the Rabbit loves reading about animals, but he finds their sounds, smells, and movements overwhelming in person. He's almost too nervous to pet Lapi.
  • Ernest from Eye of a Fly finds yelling painful and crowds overwhelming. Things get especially bad when he has an emotional breakdown late in the book and his sensory processing stops working properly, causing every sight and sound to seem painful and nonsensical until he shuts down completely and walks home in a zombie-like state.
  • Russ from Asperger Sunset is prone to this. He doesn't like being outside for the most part because he finds the sights and sounds overwhelming.
  • Rain Reign: In class, Rose Howard is driven to distraction by things the other kids don't notice, like the humming of the teacher's laptop. She's the only kid who screams and covers her ears during fire drills.
  • Charlie from The Someday Birds has an extremely sensitive nose. Smells that don't bother other people leave him gagging and feeling like he might faint.
  • You Look Different in Real Life: While walking through Manhattan, Rory becomes increasingly overwhelmed. When some kids run into her a few seconds after a fire truck and an ambulance drive past, she screams, throws herself at the nearest wall, and curls up in a Troubled Fetal Position.
  • Hoshi and the Red City Circuit: Hoshi has a Fictional Disability similar to autism and uses a navis to control sensory input. In one scene, she drops most of her auditory filters to eavesdrop. When she's forced to flee the building with no time to put them back up, she quickly becomes overwhelmed and disoriented. When she almost passes out from overload, her emergency auditory filters go up, but by then her nerves are too shot to activate other sensory or linguistics programming. She runs through the city in a daze and blacks out as soon as she reaches safety.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Smallville, Clark Kent was overwhelmed when his super hearing first manifested. Loud noises consistently cause him discomfort, and he loses control of his super hearing once under great emotional trauma when he thought Chloe died. Interestingly, the noise track used in that occasion was similar to the one in Superman Returns.
  • On Babylon 5, an unintentional version of this happens to latent telepaths when their powers "blossom", usually around puberty. Their formerly dormant powers become very active, and since they have no practice filtering the cacophony, they hear every thought of every around them. If this happens in a crowded area, such as at a marketplace, their clairaudience is "deafening" like a rocket engine.
    • Talia once describes two telepaths making love, which creates a feedback loop of pleasure that can quickly cross into pain if they aren't careful.
  • In the Buck Rogers in the 25th Century episode "Cruise Ship to the Stars", the powerful Sabrina is defeated when Buck and friends use a type of sonic emitter on her, which causes her to change back to Alison.
  • When the young cast of Space Cases switch species, human Harlan gets Andromedan Radu's super hearing... and goes crazy from the agonizing physical pain caused by "hearing everything," with that everything "magnified about a million times." It takes Andromedans years of practice to filter out all this noise and focus only on what they want to listen to.
  • Doctor Who:
    • An interesting case on - Vincent van Gogh sees the world with far more vibrancy than everyone else. However, this perpetual sensory overload is a major cause of his depression and eventual suicide.
    • The Sensorites in "The Sensorites" have these as a side effect of their psychic powers and generally feeble physiology. Their hearing is particularly prone to this, and they experience physical pain when people shout at them or clap loudly. Bright lights, flashing lights and darkness are also physically painful to them.
  • Happens occasionally on The Sentinel, like when Jim was driven to distraction by the pain of a minor wound on his hand because of his super-touch sense.
    • In a two-part episode, an evil Sentinel finds an ancient South American temple used by tribal Sentinels to boost their powers Up to Eleven by taking a bath (It Makes Sense in Context). Unfortunately, she ends up taking one too many baths, and the overstimulation causes her brain to burn out. They cart her away as a vegetable.
    • In one episode, Blair teaches Jim how to control his pain sensation, which Jim does fairly well on the first try.
    • In another episode, a doctor clean out the wax build-up in his ears, causing Jim to be constantly distracted by every tiny noise, such as someone tapping a pencil or whispering from the other side of the office. Blair gives him some white noise earbuds that help drown out the sounds, but Jim later adapts and learns to filter out the unnecessary sounds.
  • Rachel is prone to this in Alphas. Her ability to drastically increase one sense at the cost of diminishing the others kicks in unexpectedly, causing her to avoid sex, keep things obsessively clean, and insist on preparing food herself so she'll have control over everything that's gone into it. The Can't Have Sex, Ever element caused her significant angst, but she finally did get over it with a sympathetic boyfriend - the implication was that it was less a case of physical inability to bear the sensations than a fear of letting herself become so utterly helpless with someone that she didn't trust absolutely.
    • A Gadgeteer Genius Alpha weaponized this trope by macgyvering a strobing and sonic overload device from office electronics to escape from custody. Fortunately Rachel reacted quickly enough to funnel her sight and hearing into taste, leaving her well enough to immediately start tracking her.
  • In an episode of Heroes, Mohinder tortures Sylar by holding a tuning fork to his ear, oversensitising his Super Hearing.
    • The person he stole his Super Hearing from, a mechanic named Dale, ran into this as well, having to blare music at severely loud levels to drown out the regular noises of her day.
  • In one episode of The Adventures of Superboy, Lex Luthor develops a device which overloads Superboy's super-hearing.
  • In the Angel episode "To Shanshu in L.A.", Wolfram & Hart raise a demon who inflicts Cordelia with a spell that increases her empathic powers. Instead of just receiving the "messages" from the Powers That Be, Cordelia feels the suffering of everyone which overwhelms her and drives her into madness and catatonia.
  • On Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy temporarily develops mind-reading abilities as her "aspect of the demon". This power, which she cannot control or turn off, slowly increases in intensity, expanding her "hearing range" far beyond those standing right next to her. Eventually she becomes overwhelmed by hearing everyone's thoughts all at once, nonstop, and passes out.
  • In the Father Ted episode "Speed 3", Ted and Dougal are spying on the Kavorka Man milkman Pat Mustard, hoping to expose him as an adulterer. Dougal, listening to the house Pat's visiting with a listening device, announces thta he's going to up the volume on the microphone, "it'll be so loud I'll be able to hear a pin..." right as a van drives past the car they're sat in. Dougal winces in pain and faints.
  • On Flashpoint the Strategic Response Unit regularly use flashbangs to incapacitate suspects. On some occasions they will also use a special riot shield with flashing strobe lights and speakers emitting loud high frequency noise.
  • In the Incredible Hulk/Daredevil TV movie Trial of the Incredible Hulk, the Kingpin, despite being unaware of Daredevil's heightened senses, chances on the idea of using light and sound to disorient him; it works much better than expected.
  • Done unintentionally in an episode of Quantum Leap. Sam had leaped into a blind piano player, but someone spots him (Sam) reading something, which makes her think that he (the pianist) is a fraud playing up the blindness for sympathy. She tries to expose him later, but fortunately he had been dazzled by a flashbulb going off in his face moments earlier, leaving him really blinded long enough to pass her "test".

    Multiple Media 

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons
    • The 2nd Edition supplement The Complete Thief's Handbook recommends using aniseed or dog pepper to throw off dogs that track by scent.
    • The spell color spray shoots a cone of really bright colored light, which either leaves targets stunned for a round or knocked out, stunned or blinded for several rounds, depending on their hit dice. The implication is it causes some kind of seizure or the like.
  • One issue of Adventurer's Club (an early house organ published by Hero Games) featured a villain with hypersenses. He became a villain because it was the only way he could pay for his sensory deprivation chamber, and without it he would have gone insane.
  • In Vampire: The Masquerade, the first trait of Auspex gives you awesome super senses... unless you get a light shined on you, or if a loud noise goes off. Then it just hurts.
  • Shadowrun
    • Hypersensitive senses, particularly pain, are among the unpleasant symptoms that a simsense addict will have to cope with, if they try to break the habit.
    • The Chaos spell overloaded the victim's senses with a cloud of sensations, including blinding sights, loud sounds, fierce odors and tickling. This caused major distraction and severe penalties to all of the victim's actions.
    • Could easily happen to someone who uses a defective simsense chip (which simulates a pre-recorded sensory experience), or one with it's safety constraints modded off, flooding the user with dangerous levels of sensory input.
    • Happens when one is "brainfried" from a matrix attack.
  • Used by devotees of Slaanesh in Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000:
    • 40K's Noise Marines use Doomsirens and Dirge Casters to completely overwhelm the target's senses via Ear Rape.
    • Slaaneshi cultists themselves, what with using Sensory Overload as a form of worship, are more or less immune to it (the aforementioned Noise Marines use hot pink and jet black on their armor as it's one of the few color combinations to still catch their eye). Using it to torture them is of course pointless, so in Warhammer one Sigmarite came up with a potion that completely deadens them to sensation, breaking them far more efficiently than any beating.

    Video Games 
  • Two examples in the Legacy of Kain series:
    • In Defiance, Raziel battles his last remaining vampire brother, the bat-like Turel, by striking gongs to deafen and stun him.
    • In Soul Reaver, Raziel visits the Silenced Cathedral, a vast building housing a steam-powered sonic weapon that the humans intended to use to wipe out the vampires.
  • In Pokémon:
    • The move Extrasensory inflicts damage on the target by forcing them to experience a sensation they didn't have before.
    • While downplayed compared to the anime, the ability Stench was buffed in Gen V was buffed to have a 10 percent chance to cause the target to flinch when attacked for this reason. It also repels wild Pokémon if the Pokémon with the ability is the first one in the party.
  • In Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, HK-47, an assassination droid, recommends sensory overload as one of the ways to kill a Jedi warrior, who are able to deflect blaster bolts and strike with extreme accuracy when their mind is focused.
  • In Mass Effect 2, the Arc Villain of Project Overlord is revealed to be David Archer, an autistic mathematical savant who dislikes loud noises. Cerberus had the wonderful idea to stick his mind into the Geth consensus in an attempt to control them. The resulting continuous noise was extreme torture and drove David mad causing the entire plot of the DLC.
    QUIET PLEASE! MAKE IT STOP!
  • In Resident Evil, Lickers are zombies who have mutated into extremely deadly, but eyeless, creatures who rely on their extremely acute hearing to find their prey. This means they are quite vulnerable to the "bang" part of a flashbang, which renders them unable to track their prey. It doesn't leave them completely helpless, though, as their response is to blindly swipe around them, so anything that gets to close will be hit.

    Visual Novels 
  • Spirit Hunter: NG:
    • Kubitarou is destroyed by luring her in front of a speeding train, but it's not the impact with it that kills her - she instead evaporates when the train's bright lights shine upon her, triggering her oxyopia.
    • Akira's psychometry allows him a glimpse of a victim's past by touching their blood. When he tries it in the Miroku Mansion's attic, he's overloaded with images due to the blood pool belonging to multiple people, and he fails to glean anything useful from it.
    • The Killer Peach has an acute sense of smell that she uses to identify her victims. When facing off against her, Akira makes use of this to overload her with a scent and cause her to be disorientated.
  • In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies, Athena had to wear special headphones when she was younger because otherwise she'd be overwhelmed by all the emotions she hears because of her super hearing. This is later used against her in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice by the main prosecutor of that game who cruelly cultivates negative emptions in the crowd so as to overload her super hearing with negative emotions. Thankfully, Blackquill is there to snap her out of it.

    Web Comics 
  • Magick Chicks: As an esper, Faith's senses are naturally attuned to perceive that which can't be detected by the natural senses. Her psychic acuity is such, that she could still tell something was off, while under the effects of Cerise's amnesia spell. However, this ability also acts as a double-edged sword, such as when she was psychically assaulted by an indirect attack from Hecate, which hadn't been intended for her. Regardless, Faith not only sensed it, it caused her to have seizures and briefly pass out. When she regained consciousness, she'd been left physically weakened and temporarily without her powers. While she didn't know who'd been responsible for the attack, she could sense it'd been the work of something ancient, dark, and powerful.
  • In Widdershins, O'Malley's Aura Vision is painfully overstimulated by seeing large numbers of people or spirits. However, in the "Green-Eyed Monster" arc, the Sight gets temporarily transferred to Thackery, and Mal gets equally frustrated by not seeing spirits or auras everywhere, to say nothing of how weird he finds ordinary color vision to be.
  • Girl Genius hints at this rather cleverly when heroine Agatha loses the locket that has been keeping her Spark (and emotions) suppressed, with the color scheme going from a muted near black and white to garish full-color gradients, and then finally setting into a more balanced palette. The novelization, lacking pictures, makes this transition more explicit.
    • Tarvek defeats a bunch of Spark Hounds that were sent to murder him and slaughter those he is with by coming up with a projectile that overloads their sense of smell, sending all of those his with it reeling and falling off the airship they are on as they try to run from something that is on them.
  • PS238 has a child with the power of noticing patterns; it's so strong that he actually falls under Prescience Is Predictable, able to figure out what has and will happen with uncanny accuracy. While he can interact with the other students for short periods, he spends most of his time studying in a private room with blank walls to keep from being overwhelmed.
  • In El Goonish Shive, Grace has a remote tactile sense that she can't damp down but can turn off by shapeshifting away the anatomy that enables it. If she didn't, she would experience this in crowds.

    Web Original 
  • The Whateley Universe has a couple examples, ranging from flashbangs grenades, to a massive sonic emitter on Halloween night that sent afflicted folks - many with super hearing - into various types of seizure.
  • SCP-1364 suffers from this to a huge extent, everything hurts it, bright lights, loud noises, water, being touched, everything, and yet it still just wants a hug.
  • Twitch Plays Pokémon interprets the game's crash at Lavender Town as Red breaking down and fainting after hearing more voices than he was used to and subsequently panicking. Later on he more or less refused to leave the Pokémon Center for a while, probably to try and get his bearings again.

    Western Animation 
  • The super-smelling Shirshu from Avatar: The Last Airbender is completely blinded when several liters of perfume are spilled onto the floor beneath him. Lashing out blindly with his poison tongue, he manages to hit Zuko, and then his own mistress.
  • In Hercules: The Animated Series, a monster steals the heroic traits of all the heroes around. Hercules has a flash of inspiration and asks the heroes' robbed of their super vision and hearing what the worst part about them is; "Bright lights" and "loud noises" are the answer and two of several Achilles Heels that the monster stole in the process.
  • Superman: The Animated Series
    • One of Darkseid's earliest attempts to defeat Superman included high-tech tanks that amongst other weaponry used high-pitched focused sound to great effect against Superman's super-hearing. Blood could be seen pouring out of Superman's ears in the aftermath.
    • In the Grand Finale, Darkseid also uses the Agony Matrix on Superman, which overloads the pain sensors of his body. As in, all of them, at once. It bypasses all natural defenses (since it doesn't actually damage the body) and would have killed any lesser being simply by shock.
  • Transformers: Generation 1 has Jazz's sonic overload attack and Reflector's disorienting lights.
  • In one episode of SpongeBob SquarePants when Patrick finally gets a nose, he takes his new sense of smell too far when he (ironically) starts a crusade against everything smell, to the point of disrupting the lives of SpongeBob and the others. To get him to stop, SpongeBob and the others subject his nose to a concentration of stink so powerful that it destroys his nose.
  • Master Yao from Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness has been cooped up in a meditation box for so long, he gets excited when he comes out with childlike eagerness. Anything mundane to normal people is like a treasure trove for him.
  • The one-shot villain Mr. Mime in The Powerpuff Girls seemed to be physically pained by bright colors and loud sounds. His touch could drain color, sound, and general life from everything around him, leaving the world silent and in Deliberate Monochrome, just the way he liked it.
  • The Music Destroyer in Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog episode "Sonic's Song" was designed by Dr. Robotnik to go into an Unstoppable Rage. Robotnik created the Giant Robot Mech with super-sensitive ears, programming him to destroy music by stealing instruments and capturing anyone who gets in his way. Sonic eventually made the robot explode by playing very loud rock music.
    M.D.: Oooh, too much... music!...Music overload!
    • In ep "Sonic Breakout", Because of the Prison built by Dr. Robotnik is so complex. Sonic and Tails then go around and set off all the security alerts, overloading the computer system. The Prison starts to crumble and fall apart.
    Computer: Unauthorized entry on Corridor 3, Sector A…Uh…Uh…I mean Corridor 52, Sector G…No…No…Uh…Gate Sensor B…No…I…I mean…D-Level…Uh…Device D-6…Uh…ye...

    Real Life 
  • In World War II, after a destroyer dropped a pattern of depth charges, its sonar was deaf for several moments, giving a crucial window of escape to a fleeing submarine. For this reason, Allied warships also used other weapons systems which used rockets or mortars to lob volleys of projectiles into the water, effectively being anti-submarine artillery.
  • Flashbang grenades are designed specifically to cause sensory overload to both hearing and vision, incapacitating a target.
  • Sensitivity to light and/or sound is also a common symptom accompanying migraine headaches.
  • Autistic people often have rather sensitive hearing and sight, leading to this issue. Sudden loud noises are often a surefire way to trigger an autistic meltdown instantaneously. Lighting that's too intense can also overwhelm some autistic people rather swiftly as well.
  • A rare (estimated about 200,000 sufferers in the US) and little studied or understood auditory disorder called Misophonia exists. The name literally means "Fear of Sound", and it causes sufferers to experience intense fight-or-flight responses when exposed to a vast array of normally innocuous everyday sounds, referred to as "trigger sounds". Perhaps the trigger most commonly heard of by in passing is hearing another person chew. A sufferer being exposed to a trigger sound for 1 minute has been compared to a normal person being exposed to fingernails on a chalkboard for 1 hour. The current believed cause is an over connectivity between the auditory nerve and the limbic center of the brain.
  • Some people insist that SWAT teams and special forces units on hostage recovery missions use, basically, high-powered laser pointers to temporarily blind and disorient the hostage takers. After all, shooting a hostage taker may still give him time to kill the hostage, but blinding him may have a higher chance of success to both recover the hostage and take the bad guy alive. There are ethical issues to consider, such as the fact that a laser at too high a power can permanently blind someone.
  • Pretty much the point of a Macross Missile Massacre or a human wave attack. If you throw more missiles/men at a target than it can handle at once, some will get through.
  • There is, of course, the infamous defense mechanism of skunks, which overwhelms the noses of almost every creature nearby and whose stench only gets stronger when washed. The only natural predators of skunks are a few species of birds of prey, who have little to no sense of smell.
  • Epileptic Flashing Lights, which overload vision to the point of causing seizures. Weaponized on tactical lights with strobe mode.
  • Dazzlers are a form of optical jammers used by a number of armies which operate by blasting incoming missiles with laser light in order to confuse the on-board sensors, rather than shooting it down with expensive anti-missile munitions.


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