Depth Perception

Your depth perception is an important part of your vision. It helps you see objects in three dimensions and understand how far away they are from you. Because your depth perception depends on information from both your eyes and your brain, anything affecting your overall vision can impact your depth perception.


The view down the center of a spiral staircase.
Depth perception is what lets you see in three dimensions — it’s what gives objects depth.

What is depth perception?

Depth perception is your ability to see objects in three dimensions, including their size and how far away they are from you. It’s made possible by lots of parts in your eyes and your brain working together to process information, estimate their location and create the images you see.

If something’s affecting your ability to see out of one or both eyes, there’s a good chance your depth perception will be affected, too.

See your healthcare provider or ophthalmologist as soon as you notice any changes in your vision.


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What is the purpose of depth perception?

Depth perception is an important part of your overall vision.

It helps you understand an object’s size and distance from you. Depth perception is what lets you see in three dimensions. That’s where it gets its name — you’re perceiving an object’s depth.

For example, if you’re reading this article on your phone or a computer, depth perception is what you’re using to tell the difference between this flat text on your screen and the device you’re reading it on. Without your depth perception, the words you’re reading and the device you’re reading on would both look totally flat.

In addition to letting you see objects fully, your depth perception keeps you safe. Everything from walking around your home to knowing when to swing the bat to hit a baseball relies on your depth perception. Correctly judging how far away something is lets you drive safely or know where other people around you are on the sidewalk.

How does depth perception work?

Many parts of your eyes and brain work together to maintain your depth perception. It’s part of your visual pathway. Your visual pathway works in a few steps:

  • Light and information enter your eye.
  • Your retinas at the back of your eye interpret it and send that information to your optic nerves.
  • Your optic nerves meet in an X-shaped area at the front of your brain called the optic chiasm.
  • Your brain’s visual cortex (the area responsible for all your sight) takes the information from your optic nerves and combines it into the images you see.

Depth perception usually comes from having binocular vision (seeing with two eyes). It’s possible to see with only eye (monocular vision), but your depth perception might be less accurate than it usually is. However, some people who have good vision in one eye but not the other still have good depth perception because their brains adjust to overcome their limited ability to see.


Conditions and Disorders

What are the common conditions and disorders that affect depth perception?

Because your depth perception depends on information from your eyes and your brain, anything affecting your overall vision can impact your depth perception. The most common issues include:

Injuries to your eye or trauma can also affect your depth perception, especially if your optic nerves are damaged.

Common signs or symptoms of problems with my depth perception

Talk to your healthcare provider if you notice any symptoms in your eyes, including:

  • Blurry vision.
  • Double vision (diplopia).
  • New pain that doesn’t go away in a few days.
  • Light sensitivity.
  • Your vision is getting noticeably worse.

How much of your depth perception is lost at night?

You shouldn’t lose any of your depth perception or ability to see at night or in low-light conditions. You might see less of your surroundings simply because it’s darker, but the amount of light shouldn’t directly impact your vision or ability to see in three dimensions. See your provider if your sight is noticeably worse at night or in poor lighting. You might have night blindness (nyctalopia).


What tests are done on depth perception?

Your provider or ophthalmologist will check your depth perception as part of your overall eye exam. They might have you cover one eye and then the other to check for any issues or differences between the two.

How are issues with depth perception treated?

Most people who have issues with their depth perception only need their vision corrected. If you’ve never had glasses or contact lenses, you might need them. Or, if you do use some form of corrective lenses, your existing prescription might need to be adjusted.

Your provider will tell you what you need to do to improve your vision if you have an issue like astigmatism or strabismus.


How do I take care of my eyes?

Tell your healthcare provider about any changes in your vision. If you wear glasses or contact lenses, have your eyes examined regularly so your provider can adjust your prescription as often as necessary.

Make sure you’re wearing proper eye protection for any sport or activity that could cause an eye injury.

When should I see my healthcare provider?

See your healthcare provider as soon as you notice any changes in your vision. Whether it’s something as simple as needing new glasses, or a more serious condition, don’t wait for symptoms to get worse before having your eyes checked.

Go to the emergency room if you suddenly lose your vision or have severe pain in your eyes.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Your depth perception is an important part of your vision that gives you lots of information in an instant. Without it, the world around you would look flat and have no shape.

Even if the solution is usually as simple as adjusting your glasses prescription, don’t ignore any changes in your depth perception or overall vision.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/03/2023.

Learn more about our editorial process.

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