Orientation is the awareness of the position of the aircraft and of oneself in relation to a specific reference point. Disorientation is the lack of orientation, and spatial disorientation specifically refers to the lack of orientation with regard to position in space and to other objects.
Orientation is maintained through the body's sensory organs in three areas: visual, vestibular, and postural. The eyes maintain visual orientation; the motion sensing system in the inner ear maintains vestibular orientation; and the nerves in the skin, joints, and muscles of the body maintain postural orientation. When human beings are in their natural environment, these three systems work well. However, when the human body is subjected to the forces of flight, these senses can provide misleading information. It is this misleading information that causes pilots to become disoriented.
Orientation: Awareness of the position of the aircraft and of oneself in relation to a specific reference point.
Spatial disorientation: The state of confusion due to misleading information being sent to the brain from various sensory organs, resulting in a lack of awareness of the aircraft position in relation to a specific reference point.