Synaesthesia is an unusual perceptual experience in which an inducer stimulus triggers a percept in a different domain in addition to its own. To explore the conditions under which synaesthesia evolves, we studied a neuronal network model that represents two recurrently connected neural systems. The interactions in the network evolve according to learning rules that optimize sensory sensitivity. We demonstrate several scenarios, such as sensory deprivation or heightened plasticity, under which synaesthesia can evolve even though the inputs to the two systems are statistically independent and the initial cross-talk interactions are zero. Sensory deprivation is the known causal mechanism for acquired synaesthesia and increased plasticity is implicated in developmental synaesthesia. The model unifies different causes of synaesthesia within a single theoretical framework and repositions synaesthesia not as some quirk of aberrant connectivity, but rather as a functional brain state that can emerge as a consequence of optimising sensory information processing.