Level is a direct measurement of power.
I'm not sure how else to say that. A high level character will always be more powerful in D&D, even though 5th edition has somewhat mitigated that. What are the reasons that you want to play a higher level character and play in the kiddie pool?
In setting, there are tons of reasons for this, but as a player it's difficult to pull off, especially since a lot of the benefits of levels make certain things unfeasible: you'll get access to abilities nobody else gets for a long time explicitly because they're powerful, and voluntarily not using them still leaves you with much more HP, even if you're allowed to sacrifice extra attacks, AC, and the like.
Pitfalls of the Level Mechanics
One of the things that we see happen a lot during fiction is that some characters who want to hide their identity, like epic heroes and such, will intentionally pull punches while still revealing their power level to a skilled observer.
The question for you is whether or not your character is willing to admit that they're holding themselves back. I don't know that there's any real set of rules regarding going lower, but if the GM is willing to let you play a much higher level character than everyone else they might be willing to let you selectively adjust things like AC, accuracy, or damage just so that you fight like a mortal.
Now, if your character is a known hero, you're going to have a hard time not stealing the limelight. For instance, you could say "I'm going to fight off all these guys with one arm tied behind my back!" and just use a dagger when everyone else has a longsword, or say "I'm just going to cast cantrips to finish you off!", but the truth of the matter is that you're still playing a better character, and that will steal the show from anyone else.
Odysseus disguised as a beggar is still Odysseus, and nobody ever asks "Hmm, are these suitors going to string the bow, shoot it through the axe-heads, and get Penelope?". Odysseus will always win against an average Joe, just as a level 15 adventurer will always outshine a level 5 adventurer, except perhaps in fringe areas that they just can't do (like magic for a Fighter).
Now, if you're talking about alternate pathways to not outshine others, that's still difficult. First, if you're just going to play a support class and sit back, you're going to keep anyone else from having moments of glory if they're playing something similar. Second, unless you're a truly worthless worm outside of your field, D&D scales in such a way that a level 15 Cleric will out-fight a Level 5 Fighter almost all the time, barring intentional idiot builds. 5th Edition makes this worse in some ways, since all classes apply their Proficiency bonus to combat.
Using Narrative, not Mechanics
This is going to be a bit of a disappointment, but what if I told you that the solution is simply playing a character at level?
It sounds like you have some idea of a character archetype: a returning hero, a grizzled veteran, a rusty wizard. There's nothing that says that your character can't be an old hero trying to go back and relive their glory days, and simply have the same level as everyone else.
I mean, honestly, if I were the GM, it'd be pretty darn difficult to get a significant level advance on any other player. I might give someone a level or two if they make every game and everyone else misses a couple, or if they roleplay particularly well, but part of the thing about giving players different power levels is that it's really hard to do without overt favoritism. If your character was in, say, the last campaign and returns for this campaign, I might be persuaded with some limitations, but really it's a GM minefield to do anything like that, because of allegations of favoritism.
If I'm understanding your question correctly, you want to play a character who plays like a low level character, but has access to a handful of high level abilities for when things get rough. That's something that's much more doable, but I'd caution you that it would be very difficult as a GM to give a character such a thing and just give them the get dangerous trigger themselves. There is room for something interesting in a campaign where one character happens to be a special font of arcane power, for instance, but if you are playing a character with such a special relationship to the plot expect to have the GM give you some consequences; at the very least I wouldn't let the magic fix-all-things dude be able to walk away from problems and just let them be fixed by the town guard, and at worst they're targets of kidnapping, assassination attempts, or political intrigue.