Alice in Wonderland Syndrome – What’s wrong with Alice?

L. Carroll, the author of a fairy tale “Alice in Wonderland” describes the situation when the Alice drinks a potion and eats a piece of a cake to change the size of her body. Of course, the scene is only literary fiction, but what if it could be true?

Alice in Wonderland syndrome (AWS) is a psychosensoric disorder that results in some kind of hallucination. The illusions refer mainly to the perception of the body size. Disorder may occur with different diseases including migraine with aura, epilepsy and infectious mononucleosis caused by Epstein-Barr virus. AWS is the disorder of the body image (weight, size or shape) or it’s position in space (micro- and macrosomatognosia). Patients see unreal image of themselves and surrounding world (people, animals and items). AWS is not the disease of eyes, but of the vision in the occipital lobe. Although, sometimes changes within the other senses occur.

In 1952 C. Lippman studied seven people who claimed that they can change the shape and size of their body. One patient described that his left ear was able to grow to a size of 6 inches. Another patient affected by the disorder claimed to be higher than people passing on the street. Other cases described the unrealistic size of the head, lengthening and shrinking fingers, stairs and corridors without end. Much less frequent symptoms were wrong sense of time or soft feeling underfoot. Observations showed that the symptoms are more common in the morning and more often among children between 5 and 10 years old – most children grow out of the disease. AWS refers to 4 people per 1000 affected by migraines.

The disease was named in 1955 by psychiatrist J. Todd. Todd, in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, compared the vision of patients to the image seen in parbolic mirrors in amusement park. AWS is difficult to diagnose and treat. Pharmacotheraphy is mainly effective in the case of underlying disease, but it does not work on the symptoms of AWS. Most patients are unaware of their problem or identify their symptoms as mental illness. You should know that the author of “Alice …” suffered from severe migraines, so the story may involve elements of the experience of this specific problem.

Written by: Mateusz Grajek, Anna Rej, Sandra Kryska

1. Alice in Wonderland Syndrome,
2. Alicja w Krainie Czarów,

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