Alice in Wonderland Syndrome- a Rare Mental Disorder

Alice in wonderland syndrome is a neurological condition in which the person’s visual, auditory, spatial and time perceptions are so altered, that they feel like they are revisiting Alice’s wonderland in real life. AIWS is one of the rare

Alice in wonderland syndrome is a neurological condition in which the person’s visual, auditory, spatial and time perceptions are so altered, that they feel like they are revisiting Alice’s wonderland in real life. People’s smiles will look like Cheshire cat’s grin, and walking along the lane recreate the feel that all the running you are doing is making you stay where you are.

The syndrome was first described by J. Todd, an English psychiatrist in the year 1955 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal as an experience of “parabolic mirrors of fun-fairs”. Todd himself coined the condition as Alice in Wonderland Syndrome. The term is taken from Louise Carroll’s classic Alice in Wonderland, where the Alice has bizarre encounters with oddly shaped and sized persons and objects, in a place where there is incoherent sense of time.

The sufferers of AIWS describe the symptoms as odd visual and auditory perceptions. They get distorted images of the objects, persons, and distances. People will appear as too tall or very short, the floor seems to drop down or come up close, the alleyway seem to stretch without end, walls are seen to be flying past, and the objects become larger than life, and you seems to grow shorter.  Telescopic distorted images of people are seen and sometimes their own hands and fingers hallucinated to be spidery and long like a twig or large and bulky. There are about 300 people in US diagnosed with AIW syndrome.

Two of the common experiences in this conditions are micropsia and macropsia. Micropsia is altered visual perception where the objects seem too small than they really are, and in macropsia they appear larger than their actual size. The concept of time is also obscured, as if it takes forever to perform a task. With altered space and time orientation, the speed with which a task is performed is distorted. The person might be lifting an object slowly, but the object is seen as if rushing towards him. This makes performance of tasks difficult for an AIWS victim. Auditory hallucinations also occur where minute movements are heard as loud noises.

An Alice in Wonderland syndrome can last from few seconds to hours to weeks in a row. Studies have found it occur in children more than in adult, which often makes the experience to be brushed off as fantasy. When it occurs in adults, the daily living activities suffers during the time of occurrence of the syndrome.

The etiology of the syndrome is the abnormal electrical activity in the occipital lobe of the brain which controls visual perception, and the parietal lobe which is associated with other neurological manifestations. AIWS is found in conjunction with migraine aura, which can occur without headaches. It is speculated that Louise Carroll might have had the same experiences, since in his diary record of 1950s describes himself as a migraine sufferer. It is also associated with epileptic attack, Epstein barr virus, infection, schizophrenia, stress, glandular fever, and with consumption of LSDs and other psychotropic drugs. Caffeine intake, hard blow to the head and a migraine medication called topiramate are found to set it off too.

There is no specific treatment for AIWS so far. The symptoms are managed with migraine drugs such as anticonvulsants and antidepressants. Most often, the individuals have to wait till the symptoms wear itself out. Those with the symptoms find it frightening and anxiety provoking, but because of the nature of the illness, most don’t speak it out. Only when they hear about similar experiences of the others, do they come out with their own childhood or adult occurrences of the syndrome.

In case of Alice in Wonderland Syndrome, forming support groups provides encouragement in the paranoid experience of the condition. AIWS usually cures by itself once the childhood phase is over. In adults also it is infrequent and temporary. To understand the real strangeness of the syndrome, you yourself will have to go down the rabbit hole.

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Saundra Dumire
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Posted on Apr 26, 2012