Alice in Wonderland Syndrome Is Real

The scary disorder distorts perceptions of big and small
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 23, 2014 6:50 PM CDT
Updated Jun 28, 2014 7:05 AM CDT
'Alice in Wonderland Syndrome' is no hallucination.   (AP Photo/Micah Daniel)

(Newser) – When she's lost in Wonderland, Alice shrinks down to doll-size and grows to massive proportions—and the real-life syndrome named after her creates pretty much the same perceptions. Helene Stapinski learned about Alice in Wonderland Syndrome when her 10-year-old daughter complained "everything in the room looks really small" while having a bad headache. Well, Stapinski writes in the New York Times, she suffered similar perceptive problems as a child, and she soon discovered her son, mother, sister, brother, and cousin did too. So she contacted experts and learned that:

  • British psychologist Dr. John Todd named the disorder in 1955 (another name for it is Todd's Syndrome).
  • Possible causes include stress, migraines, infections, drugs (cough medicines in particular), and maybe epilepsy.
  • It's no hallucination. The syndrome is likely triggered by a change in the brain's parietal lobe, which helps us perceive the environment and spatial relationships.
  • One expert she contacted, Grant Liu, wrote in Neurology that the syndrome can make objects appear bigger or smaller, closer or further, or wavy when they're really straight. (It can also alter one's sense of time.) The syndrome went away for 60% of his subjects over the course of his 10-year study.

And Stapinski isn't alone. Rik Hemsley wrote in the Guardian in 2008 about how the syndrome's "fisheye lens" limited his social life and forced him to work at home, if at all, during most of his 20s. Only in his early 30s did it diminish and allow him to have a life. Yet "it's not dangerous," a headache expert told NBC News. "I've never met anybody who has so many [episodes] that it affects their life in a severe way, once they’re reassured that it doesn’t indicate a dangerous or ominous thing." And yes, some say Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll, who suffered from migraines, may have had the syndrome, too. (Now check out the facts behind "exploding head syndrome.")

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