The world of Alice in Wonderland Syndrome

Robin Tricoles in The Atlantic gives a first person account of a harrowing neurological disorder, Alice in Wonderland Syndrome.

The rare condition was first illustrated in 1955 by John Todd, a psychiatrist who named it after the famous book by Lewis Carroll.

Alice in Wonderland Syndrome is a disorienting condition that affects one’s perception. The most common symptom is an altered body image where the person observes sizes of parts of the body, usually the head and hands, as being disproportionately large or small.

The patient perceives the sizes of various other objects inaccurately – either smaller, or larger of further away than they are.

Tricoles describes the unnerving experience.

The first time it happened, I was 8. I was tucked in bed reading my favorite book when my tongue swelled up to the size of a cow’s, like the giant tongues I had seen in the glass display case at the neighborhood deli. At the same time, the far wall of my bedroom began to recede, becoming a tiny white rectangle floating somewhere in the distance. In the book I was holding, the typeface grew vast on the page. I was intrigued, I remember, but not afraid. Over the next six years, the same thing happened to me dozens of times.

Doctors aren’t entirely sure what causes the condition, although it appears to be closely associated with migraine.

Carroll himself was a migraine sufferer and Todd speculated that Carroll had used his own migraine experiences as a source of inspiration for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Grant Liu, a pediatric neuro-ophthalmologist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, recently began studying children with AWS. He and other researchers believe that migraines, as well as other conditions like epilepsy and viral infections, may be associated with the syndrome.

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