When I am learning a new piece on the piano, at first I struggle to get it together bar by bar. It depends on how tricky it is, but most of the time I start out real slow, trying to get it 'down'. At this stage I often have to stop and think what comes next, sometimes even try the hands separately. Anyway, I stop at almost every note or chord and I am acutely aware of what I'm doing.
Then, it starts to flow naturally. It may take a day or two, but eventually I get it up to speed and I don't have to think about every note. Eventually, especially during rapid passages, it is so fluent that I'm not actually aware of the keys I'm hitting any more, the hand just flows by itself. This always freaks me out. Does it mean that I commited it to some sort of muscle memory and forgot what I'm actually playing? Sometimes if I stop and don't play the piece for a while, I am not able to recall those sections that I was able to play so fluently.
I'm self-taught on piano and I am currently struggling to connect all the music I know to the theory and eventually be able to play things I hear clearly in my head, but at this moment that seems far away. What I wanted to ask is, am I just sloppy, lacking in knowledge of theory and pushing the burden of recall on muscle memory or is it natural? Do other people (playing classical piano) always rememeber every single note of a piece they are playing, or do they let their hands go on autopilot from time to time? Thanks.