Alice in Wonderland – and the psychological condition named after it

Alice in Wonderland syndrome is a disorienting neurological condition that affects human perception to the senses of vision, hearing, touch, sensation, and the phenomenon of time. Individuals affected with Alice in Wonderland syndrome can experience alterations in their perception of the size of objects or their own body parts, known as metamorphopsias. It is known to occur in conditions including migraine, epilepsy, and certain intoxicants and infectious diseases. The name refers to Lewis Carrol’s well-known children’s book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, in which the title character experiences alterations of sensation in which she felt that her body had grown too tall or too small, or parts of her body were changing shape, size, or relationship to the rest of her body. The syndrome was described in 1952 by Caro Lippman, and given its name in 1955 by John Todd.

The metamorphopsias characteristic of this condition are also sometimes referred to as Lilliputian hallucinations, a reference to the fictional island of Lilliput in the novel Gulliver’s Travels, written by Jonathan Swift in 1726. As such, many literary and medical publications have roots in the description of this syndrome. The purpose of this review is to summarize the literary and historical significance of Alice in Wonderland syndrome, as well as to provide the reader with a medical overview of the condition.

A British psychiatrist by the name of Dr. John Todd was the first to describe Alice in Wonderland Syndrome, which occurred in 1955. Dr. Todd gave it this name from the famous novel by Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, as Alice in Wonderland Syndrome resembles many of the events experienced by the fictional character Alice. Reportedly, Lewis Carroll had actually suffered from severe migraines and Lilliputian hallucinations, which is where objects, as well as people appear smaller than they actually are

Alice in Wonderland hi-res movie image

Causes of Alice in Wonderland Syndrome

Alice in Wonderland Syndrome is usually experienced by young children. This adds to the uniqueness of this illness, as well as the irony of it seeing as how in the movie with which this condition is named after, the star Alice was a young girl. The symptoms of this condition may be associated with very severe migraines. In fact, some doctors believe that Alice in Wonderland Syndrome might be a type of migraine aura. Auras are visual and other sensory issues that some people may experience before or during a headache. Experiencing this condition may also be due to schizophrenia, a stroke, epilepsy, or by taking certain medications [4].

What causes migraines?

According to Mayo Clinic, there are many different causes of migraines, such as stress, medications, sensory stimuli, and sleep patterns, among other things [5]. Among these reasons, a genetic predisposition to experiencing migraines is another likely cause, which may also be a factor in inducing some of the symptoms of Alice in Wonderland Syndrome.

Stress

It’s no secret that stress can induce headaches in people who are ill-equipped at coping with the mental and physical demands that come with it. Everyone experiences stress at some point in their lives, with some people experiencing much more than others. It is this stress, as well as someone’s ability to cope with such stress which can be used as a barometer to see the odds at which they may experience a headache, and perhaps even some symptoms of Alice in Wonderland Syndrome.

Though as unpleasant and obnoxious as headaches are, a migraine is that times 10. The severity of a migraine far supersedes that of an ordinary headache and depending on the amount of stress you are experiencing, your ability to cope with such stress, as well as your genetic makeup, you may also be at risk for developing Alice in Wonderland Syndrome too.

Medications

Certain medications may induce migraines. This is another reason as to why it is very important to take into consideration the many potential side-effects that any medication can induce. Oral contraceptives and vasodilators may be among those medications which can have the potential to induce migraines, as well as inadvertently induce some symptoms of Alice in Wonderland Syndrome. If you are unsure as to which medications may cause you to experience migraines, then you may want to speak to your local pharmacist to see the potential risks.

Sensory Stimuli

Overbearing sensory experiences such as extremely bright lights, very loud sounds, or even powerful smells may induce migraines in someone who is already experiencing a headache or in someone who is already at risk for experiencing migraines. Though avoiding such stimuli is an obvious pragmatic solution to this potential problem, it is not always possible and practical to do so in every situation. So, you may greatly benefit by taking active steps in your life to try and limit the amount of over-exposure to such stimuli.

Sleep patterns

Not getting enough sleep or getting too much sleep may put yourself at risk for developing migraines. This is especially the case for those experiencing jet lag. Such migraines which are a result of improper sleep patterns may put you at risk for developing Alice in Wonderland Syndrome insofar as you have the genetics to allow it to develop in the first place.

Some other notable causes of Alice in Wonderland Syndrome are brain tumors, acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, an infection, or head trauma. Although, it is quite difficult for doctors to find the exact cause of Alice in Wonderland Syndrome due to the fact that the symptoms of it only occur for a short amount of time [6].

Symptoms of Alice in Wonderland

The symptoms of Alice in Wonderland Syndrome are quite bizarre and resemble some symptoms of schizophrenia. A lot of the symptoms of Alice in Wonderland Syndrome are seen in the movie itself as experienced by Alice. Just as her experience and perception of reality were warped, the same can be said for the individual suffering from symptoms of Alice in Wonderland Syndrome in real life.

Alice experienced color enhancement in her environment, straight lines that appeared curved, large objects that were actually very small, small objects that were actually very large, things that appeared far away but were actually right near her, and so on and so on. These symptoms that Alice experienced in the movie are also the very same symptoms of someone who has Alice in Wonderland Syndrome. These symptoms can inflict a great deal of distress upon the individual experiencing it.

  • Objects may look bigger or smaller than they really are
  • People’s faces may appear disfigured
  • Colors may appear much brighter than they really are
  • Objects or people may appear to be stretched out
  • Objects may appear to change colors or move spontaneously
  • Objects that are still may appear to be moving
  • Straight lines appear wavy or warped
  • Things may appear closer or further away than they really are

Written by theFerkel