Alice in Wonderland Syndrome

Alice in Wonderland syndrome or AiWS is a disorienting neuropsychological condition that affects perception. A English psychiatrist named John Todd named this condition in 1955 after the main character, Alice. In the book, she sees the world shift again and again as she falls down a rabbit hole. As the story continues, she finds a bottle marked “drink me” and when she drank it, Alice turned small enough to fit in a tiny dorr. Then she finds a cake marked “eat me” and when she ate it, Alice became big enough to reach a key on a tall table.

Alice in Wonderland syndrome can affect your perception in different ways. Some symptoms are that your body may look bigger, smaller, closer, or farther that what it really is. Straight lines may look wavy and things may change colors or tilt to the side. Faces can appear distorted and colors may look extra bright. Three dimensional figures may look flat and your sense of time may be distorted, making it seem that it is going too fast or too slow. Noted symptoms of AiWs also include false orientation of objects in space, one object appearing as two or more, inverted vision, impaired sense of time, and feeling detached with personality changes.

The cause of the syndrome is however, unknown to both scientist and doctors. When a patient who had AiWs was tested, he turned up negative for all of the tests such as the Epstein-Barr virus-virus serological testing. Many agree that several causes could be a migraine, epilepsy, infections, strokes, or depression. The reason that doctors have struggled over what the cause could be is because getting the syndrome is extremely rare and is usually grown out. In fact, a doctor was surprised when she learned that a whole family had experience with the said “Dr.Aurora was fascinated to learn of so many people in one family being affected; the condition is considered so rare that here have been few studies of it” This shows how rare the disease is to obtain. Another reason would be that in order to study the condition at work, you’d have to scan the brain of someone while they are having an episode. This is an example of a doctor scanning the brain of someone while they are having an episode: “Dr.Sheena Aurora, a Stanford neurologist and migraine specialist, was the first to scan the brain of someone – a 12 year old girl – in the middle of an episode.” In addition, the syndrome only affects people under the age of 18 and there are few cases in which it can happen to older adults.

Even though there has been few documentations of the syndromes in the works, we do learn much from Dr.Aurora’s research. We find that when a person who has AiWs focuses on one thing, such as a ticking clock, it can trigger the AiWs. For example, when Dr.Aurora was testing Ana, a 12 year old girl from Seattle, they were attempting to capture an actual picture of the syndrome. They were able to trigger the auras whenever Ana concentrated hard on a printed page. She says “Sometimes when I’m really focusing on a piano piece, the notes will just zoom, zoom up, so they’re just really big, like as if you were using a camera and you zoomed up on someone.” So the researcher team decided to used a checkerboard pattern that would allow the brain to trigger Ana’s aura. It worked and the research team was able to see what was happening in the brain. What occurred was that two areas of the brain lit up and a burst of electrical activity caused abnormal blood to flow in the area vision and the part of the brain that affects size, shape, and texture. This blood could be different than normal blood, which could be why the brain reacts differently to the same object, like a piece of paper. What we learn from this is that certain things trigger the syndrome with each person.

Now as for treatment options for the syndrome, there isn’t many things that you can do to treat yourself. If you or a person you know is experiencing this condition, the best thing to do is rest and wait for the episode to pass. Also, reassuring those who have the symptom that the syndrome isn’t harmful can be of great benefit as well. Being that migraines is one of the main sources for AiWs, consulting your doctor for the best medication would also be a good option. Using the medication does have a chance at preventing future episodes. If you think stress is the cause, meditation and relaxation may help with the symptoms. Also, be reminded that you will usually grow out of this as you grow into a adult.

This is the passage in which Alice grows and shrinks: “There seemed to be no use in waiting by the little door, so she went back to the table, half hoping she might find another key on it, or at any rate a book of rules for shutting people up like telescopes: this time she found a little bottle on it, (‘which certainly was not here before,’ said Alice), and tied round the neck of the bottle was a paper label, with the words ‘DRINK ME’ beautifully printed on it in large letters. It was all very well to say ‘Drink me,’ but the wise little Alice was not going to do that in a hurry. ‘No, I’ll look first,’ she said, ‘and see whether it’s marked ‘poison’ or not’; for she had read several nice little stories about children who had got burnt, and eaten up by wild beasts, and other unpleasant things, all because they would not remember the simple rules their friends had taught them: such as, that a red-hot poker will burn you if you hold it too long; and that, if you cut your finger very deeply with a knife, it usually bleeds; and she had never forgotten that, if you drink much from a bottle marked ‘poison,’ it is almost certain to disagree with you, sooner or later.However, this bottle was not marked ‘poison,’ so Alice ventured to taste it, and, finding it very nice (it had, in fact, a sort of mixed flavour of cherry-tart, custard, pine-apple, roast turkey, toffy, and hot buttered toast), she very soon finished it off.’What a curious feeling!’ said Alice. ‘I must be shutting up like a telescope!’

Here the story is saying that Alice was trying to get to the garden but could not, because the door that lead to it was too small. This is when she finds a bottle marked “Drink me” and when she drank the bottle, she became ten inches tall. The new height size allowed for he to enter the garden through the small door. This is related to the syndrome because one of the side effects is that you may appear small compared to other objects, such as a chair.

This is the passage in which Alice begins speaking to animals as she is swimming: ‘Would it be of any use, now,’ thought Alice, ‘to speak to this mouse? Everything is so out-of-the-way down here, that I should think very likely it can talk: at any rate, there’s no harm in trying.’ So she began: ‘O Mouse, do you know the way out of this pool? I am very tired of swimming about here, O Mouse!’ (Alice thought this must be the right way of speaking to a mouse: she had never done such a thing before, but she remembered having seen in her brother’s Latin Grammar, ‘A mouse — of a mouse — to a mouse — a mouse — O mouse!’ The Mouse looked at her rather inquisitively, and seemed to her to wink with one of its little eyes, but it said nothing. ‘Perhaps it doesn’t understand English,’ thought Alice; ‘I daresay it’s a French mouse, come over with William the Conqueror.’ (For, with all her knowledge of history, Alice had no very clear notion how long ago anything had happened.) So she began again: ‘Ou est ma chatte?’ which was the first sentence in her French lesson-book. The Mouse gave a sudden leap out of the water, and seemed to quiver all over with fright. ‘Oh, I beg your pardon!’ cried Alice hastily, afraid that she had hurt the poor animal’s feelings. ‘I quite forgot you didn’t like cats.’ ‘Not like cats!’ cried the Mouse, in a shrill, passionate voice. ‘Would you like cats if you were me?'(Carroll, 2)

Here, as she is swimming in her tears after becoming two inches tall, she encounters a mouse. Alice was confused and lost, and since she was already having a crazy day, she thought anything could happen at that time period. This would be a reference to the syndrome because at that state, anything could happen. When a person is having an episode, they could think anything is possible because of all the unusual things that were happening. So Alice tries making contact with the mouse by asking for its help. The mouse didn’t reply and only winked. However when Alice said “Ou est ma chatte?” or in english, where is my cat, the mouse became frightened and started speaking.

In conclusion, AiWs or Alice in Wonderland syndrome is a syndrome that can affect a person’s perception of reality. Some of the side effects are distortion, color change, and your body may be bigger, smaller, farther, or closer than it really is. However, there is nothing to fear since the syndrome cannot harm you in any way and it usually passes around adulthood. Several ways to treat it are medication for migraines, meditation and relaxation.