Abstract We measured how the perceived contrast of a sinusoidal grating fades as a function of time. Measurements were made for a range of temporal and spatial frequencies and eccentricities. Patterns of high temporal and low spatial frequency exhibited a greater and more rapid loss of apparent contrast (fade) than those of medium frequencies. The rate and amount of fading for a subgroup of moderate frequencies increased when presented peripherally rather than foveally. Further measurements revealed that gratings of disparate spatial frequencies, but with the same threshold sensitivity, exhibit very different fading characteristics but equal threshold elevation. We conclude that the differential loss of apparent contrast is not an artefact of differing proximities to threshold, nor can it be accounted for by differences in the adaptability of underlying spatio-temporal mechanisms at threshold. The differences in fading may thus reflect either a difference in the adaptability of underlying channels above threshold or a differential contribution of such channels to perceived contrast.