This didn't used to happen. One of the reasons I like column view is because you can easily see a range of folder levels. This makes it easy to see what you have and navigate around, especially when dragging and dropping files and folders. At least it used to. At some point, maybe with the change from Leopard to Snow Leopard, Finder started jumping into the next column when you click on a folder, instead of letting you just look at the contents of the folder with a single click and moving columns with a double click..
This means you can't just look into a folder and see what's there, and you can't see all of the parent folder[s] and their contents simultaneously, which negates the main benefit of column view. You have to do something with whatever you click on. You have to click and drag the column divider, or scroll sideways, or click and drag the window margin, click back on the parent folder etc to come back and see the big picture - a lot of finagling around just to see what it used to be easy to see.
It looks to me like this happens if I have the the finder window narrowed so I can see another window at the same time, and am in columns that I have widened so I can see longer file names. I am on an 11" Macbook Air and have to do a lot of jockeying around to size windows so I can see more than one at once to compare files, copy information from one window into a document in a different application, etc. (I wish Apple would make it possible to "bring all to front" all windows, even if they belong to different applications - one feature where Mac is inferior to Windows in my book: why can't Apple have cascade or tile windows like Windows does?). There are millions of people with small laptops and netbooks today, but many programs and websites, and aspects of operating systems are not set up to accomodate their dimensions adequately.
If you have the window a little wider and it jumps to the column you clicked on, it seems like it will move back to the parent folder after a slight lag if you just wait, but it's long enough and jerky enough to distract me from my train of thought. It also will jump from right to left if you are in a folder and click on another folder in the parent column, so that then you can only see the contents of that folder. If you double click on the column divider to autofit the file/folder names, it adds a lot of extra space to the right to all the columns, which initiates the drastic jumping behavior where you can only see one column.If you want to drag a file up several levels, it's very slow moving laterally; you have to wait quite a while at the inside edge of the column - in exactly the right place or it won't go.
Part of what's annoying and distracting is that it jumps so suddenly that it is very unpleasant as a visual/sensory expenence. Another part of it is that there's nothing you can do about it. Does anyone else have a problem with this? I have tried to explain it to several Apple people (sorry, they're not all "geniuses" no matter what their title} and none of them seem to understand what it is that bothers me and what I want.