“Dear, dear! How queer everything is to-day!
And yesterday things went on just as usual. I wonder if I’ve changed in the night?”
—Alice in ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ by Lewis Carroll
The girl who saw the world not quite as how it’s commonly viewed, but in changing shapes and sizes, feeling things anonymously and perceiving herself differently in different moments, Alice from “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” (1865) has a disease named after her due to its uniqueness and sometimes psychedelic characteristics.
As much as we enjoyed the book written by Lewis Caroll about how Alice, a girl with mysterious strengths, finds her world and conquers it, for some this is reality, as the rare disease with similar symptoms to the character Alice’s adventures is found in 10 to 20 percent of the population.
Alice in Wonderland Syndrome (AIWS) generally lends one to experience distortions, where objects or parts of themselves are perceived to be much larger or smaller than they should be.
This neurological disorder is rarely heard of even by people who specialize in the field, as most times it goes undiagnosed because it’s typically accompanied by the more well known ailments of migraines or epilepsy.
The condition is mostly found in children, and perhaps some adults cases end up unacknowledged for fear of stigma involved in “sounding crazy” when it comes to describing the symptoms of hallucination, Annete. E Grefe, MD, a pediatric neurologist, told Everyday Health.
Author Lewis Carrol’s Root of Imagination
One of the many interesting theories about the disease is that the author of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” Lewis Carrol, may have written the book under the influence of the disease.
In the book, Alice finds a bottle labeled “drink me,” and after she does, she shrinks to a foot tall; and immediately after she eats a piece of cake, Alice grows so tall her head hits the ceiling.
According to Anjan. K Chatterjee, MD, a neurologist, “It actually turns out that author Lewis Carrol probably had migraine, based on some of his diary entries.” It’s been a conjecture that he may have had Alice in Wonderland syndrome himself, giving rise to those unusual bits in his book, Chatterjee told Everyday Health.
Signs and Symptoms of AIWS
As the name suggests, the symptoms of AIWS are quite similar to that of Alice’s struggles. With over 60 known symptoms, this disorder mainly affects:
1. Sense of vision
4. Hearing ability
5. Perception of one’s own body image.
It is often associated with distortion of sensory perception, which involves visual, somatosensory, and non-visual symptoms.
For instance, someone experiencing AIWS may find objects or distances significantly larger or smaller in size than their usual appearance, feel different sensations, find nature of objects to be different—like the ground may feel soft, or one may hear noises or sounds that aren’t real to a normal person, or have hallucinations, and/or perceive their own bodies in a distorted manner.
Migraine, nausea, dizziness, and agitation are also associated with AIWS.
A big reason this disorder goes unnoticed is that its many symptoms that are often associated with other abnormalities.
Depending on each individual, AIWS can last for a few minutes to an hour, and in some cases it may last longer.
Causes of AIWS?
Presently there is no estimated cause for Alice in Wonderland Syndrome, but the disorder is often guessed to have either genetic or environmental roots.
Genetically, AIWS is commonly thought to be accompanied by migraine that involves the parieto-occipital part of the brain which has to do with space and body perception and the occipital lobes that regulate vision.
A relationship between the syndrome and Mononucleosis (caused by Epstein-barr virus) has also been suggested. When it is associated with epilepsy, it seems to originate in the frontal lobe.
Environmentally, this syndrome is also connected with psychoactive or psychopharmaceutical drugs that change functions of the nervous system resulting in alterations of mood, behavior, consciousness, perception, or cognition. AIWS symptoms of losing sense of time, where one feels the passing of time to be too slow, is similar to that of LSD.
This may be from drugs used medically, recreationally, for research, or for spiritual purposes.
Presently, AIWS has no known standardized treatment plan. Because the disease often disappears or reappears, either spontaneously on its own, or with the treatment of underlying disease, clinical or non-clinical AIWS is considered to be benign.
When it is caused by underlying disease such as migraine or epilepsy, AIWS seems to reappear during the active phase of the underlying cause.
Depending on the individual’s condition and cause (in case of underlying disease), AIWS can be helped in the following ways:
- Antiepileptics and Antibiotics could help with epilepsy or infectious diseases respectively
- Electroconvulsive therapy and transcranial magnetic stimulation (ECT uses electric currents to induce a seizure and TMS uses magnetic pulses to stimulate the brain in a non-invasive way)
- In case of migraine, an adequate prophylactic treatment can help
- Proper diet along with medication and treatment can result in improvement
Alice in Wonderland Syndrome is one of those modern diseases that makes us wonder if movies are made from reality or vice versa. There is still no cure or treatment of the disease as scientists struggle to even understand its causes completely.