When Hugo opened late last year, critics and audiences were bowled over by its masterful use of 3D. But it’s doubtful even the most diehard Martin Scorsese fan was as impressed as neuroscientist Bruce Bridgeman, who quite literally saw the world differently after watching the movie.

The 67-year-old man had lived his entire life “stereoblind,” or unable to perceive depth correctly. In the first moments of watching Hugo in 3D, however, something clicked. Bridgeman was surprised to notice the characters leaping out from the screen, in a way he’d never seen before. And better yet, the effect stayed with him long after he walked out of the theater. Read on after the jump.

Most people see the world in 3D because each eye sees a slightly different image, and the brain naturally combines the two pictures to allow us to perceive depth. (Try looking at something with one eye closed, then the other, to get an inkling of how this works.) Bridgeman, however, had a condition known as lazy eye, which prevented him from properly developing binocular vision.

“When we’d go out and people would look up and start discussing some bird in the tree, I would still be looking for the bird when they were finished,” he explains to the BBC (via Geeks are Sexy). “For everybody else, the bird jumped out. But to me, it was just part of the background.” Instead, he relied on other visual cues or physical methods to gauge depth.

When Bridgeman went to the theater in February to watch Hugo with his wife, he paid the premium 3D surcharge even though he assumed the effect would be lost on him. Then the film started. “It was just literally like a whole new dimension of sight. Exciting,” he says. The thinking is that Bridgeman’s brain already had the capacity to understand the world in 3D, but something about Hugo‘s particular 3D may have flipped a switch.

Bridgeman was even more pleased to find that his newfound perception stuck around even after the credits rolled. “I was astonished to see a lamppost standing out from the background,” he wrote in a letter to Dr. Oliver Sacks. “Trees, cars, even people were in relief more vivid than I had ever experienced.” So much for Christopher Nolan’s earlier assertion that nobody actually likes 3D.

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