Thursday, December 9, 2010

Alice in Wonderland Syndrome - Do You Look Fat?

Jack Dikian
December 2010

Alice in Wonderland Syndrome (AIWS) is named after Lewis Carroll’s novel Through the Looking Glass. In one scene, Alice eats cookies that change the size of her body, causing her to alternately be too small and too large for her environment.


Alice in Wonderland Syndrome (This condition is also known as micropsia and macropsia) describes a set of symptoms, the most common of which are:

  • The sizes of parts of the body are perceived incorrectly,
  • The sizes of external objects are perceived incorrectly,
  • The body changing shape uniformly or just in certain parts,
  • The experience of temporal disturbances,
  • The sense of touch may be distorted,
  • The feeling of sinking into the floor or passing through walls,
  • The experience of fractured vision which looks like a complex mosaic, and
  • Sounds seeming louder, softer, closer, or further than they really are.

Most reports are from children or by people later in life who experience the Alice in Wonderland symptoms and these are often at night.

The syndrome was first described in 1955 by the English psychiatrist John Todd. Todd named it, of course, for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Because the syndrome is usually associated with visual hallucinations and (usually) patients with either family members with a history of migraine headaches or themselves suffering migraines. It’s not a coincidence, therefore, to know that Lewis Carroll also suffered from severe migraine.


A psychopathological syndrome of distorted space, time and body image. The patient has a feeling that the entire body or parts of it have been altered in shape and size (
metamorphosis), associated with visual hallucinations.

Alice in Wonderland syndrome is a disorienting neurological condition which affects perception. Sufferers may experience micropsia, macropsia, and/or size distortion of other sensory modalities. A temporary condition, it is often associated with migraines, brain tumors, and the use of psychoactive drugs. It can also present as the initial sign of the Epstein-Barr Virus (See mononucleosis).

Psychoanalytic interpretation by Todd has made more understandable and plausible the illusionary dreams, feeling of levitation, and alteration in the sense of passage of time that Alice experienced. Alice trod the paths and byways of a wonderland well known to Carroll, her creator, who suffered severely from migraine.

Lippman’s report, one of the patients stated that she felt short and wide as she walked, calling this a ”tweedlike dum” or ”tweedle dee” feeling. Associated disorders may include apraxia, agnosia, language disorders, feelings of déjà vu or jamais vu, dreamlike or trancelike states, and delirium.

Similarly, The
Cheshire Cat syndrome is another medical eponym taken from Alice in Wonderland. It was first described by the British physician Eric George Lapthorne Bywaters (born 1910) in 1968.

1 comment:

  1. I haven't heard anyone describe 'The experience of fractured vision which looks like a complex mosaic' before in conjunction with other AIWS symptoms.

    I'd be interested in reading further on this new symptom, if you'd be so kind as to point me in the right direction please.