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Alice in Wonderland: A rare syndrome that makes people “lost” into hallucinations

The plot of ordinary people becoming giants or dwarves after gaining superpowers is one of the common episodes in many fairy tales and cartoons.

In fact, the Ames room is a room distorted to deceive the human eye.

Amy’s room.

But for some children and even adults, the enlargement or reduction of objects in the environment or the body is not new, and torments people in many different ways.

Sometimes they will feel that the object or part of the body in front of them suddenly gets bigger or smaller, or is slowly moving away from you. It also sometimes creates the illusion of time passing and noisy sounds.

This is like the hallucination that many people experience when they have colds and fevers.

In fact, it could also be a neuropsychiatric disorder that causes distortions in perception, what we now call “Alice in Wonderland Syndrome (AIWS)”.

Nervous syndrome and fantasy of the fairy world

That’s right, Alice in Wonderland, adapted from the children’s literature of the same name published in 1865.

In the story, Alice dreamed that she was dropped into a strange world with a white rabbit. In this world, taking a sip of water, your body is shrunk to the size of a mouse; Eat a piece of cake, you will become a giant… from there open exciting adventures.

In the film, Alice, who becomes smaller, enters the fantasy world through the rabbit hole.

Many people have fantasized about being able to enter a magical wonderland like Alice. Some have even spent years trying to build a similar garden.

For those with Alice in Wonderland Syndrome, that “Wonderland” has no castles and smiling flowers, no weird twins and March rabbits, it’s just that everything just isn’t the right size. usual size.

Discovered strange neurological syndrome

It’s hard to imagine a dangerous disease hiding behind such a beautiful name.

A patient once described an illness, they felt the tip of their tongue swell like a buffalo’s tongue, the wall in the room became far away, and finally there was only a small white square floating in the distance. distant. When he looked at the book in his hand, he saw that the words on the book had been greatly enlarged.

British neurologist, John Todd, named the disease “Alice in Wonderland Syndrome” in an article published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in 1955.

The five adults and one teenager Todd mentioned in the article all experienced hallucinations of unreasonable changes in the body or the external environment. Some people recall “my body being locked in an enclosed space”.

In fact, Todd’s inspiration for the name came from the patient, who coined the term while quoting a 1952 article by Caro W. Lippman.

Lippman recorded the “hallucinations” of seven patients. The first patient said she felt “about 30cm tall” when she looked at herself in the mirror.

Patient 6 said: “My head was like a balloon and I was exhausted from pulling it down from the ceiling.”

In addition, two other patients sometimes felt their bodies become shorter and wider.

One of the patients called this sensation “tweedledum or tweedledee-like sensation”.

Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

This leads Todd to think that these patients’ experiences are similar to those of Alice, who has undergone changes in body size and deformity. So Todd followed the fairy tale and named the set of symptoms “Alice in Wonderland Syndrome (AIWS)”.

Distorted in perception and senses

Patients with AIWS have a certain distortion in the perception of the size of things and will have symptoms such as micropsia and macropsia. That is, they sometimes see external objects or their own body parts more than usual. Smaller or larger in size, which is also the most common symptom of Alice in Wonderland syndrome.

In addition, the patient’s perception of distance will also be distorted and there will be teleopsia and pelopsia. For example, a hallway may appear long or the ground may appear too close. Sometimes they may experience a “shattered image” phenomenon.

In some cases, people with AIWS may also experience visual and auditory distortion. They may feel like they are sinking to the floor or going through a wall. Patients are also often paranoid due to impaired perception of sound. They hear sounds louder, weaker, closer, or farther away. This situation makes people fall into confusion, fear.

A 17-year-old boy described his strange symptoms this way: “Suddenly, everything became small and distant, but also something became large and close. I felt myself getting shorter and shorter. People are as small as my fingers Sometimes I can also see curtains or the TV swaying up and down or see my limbs swinging I can hear people’s voices loud, and near or vague and distant. I am always aware of invisible changes in myself and the outside world.”

People affected by Alice in Wonderland Syndrome also sometimes lose their sense of time. The distortion of the sense of time and space leads to a distortion of the sense of speed. For example, a person moves slowly in reality, but the patient feels as if a person is running extremely fast on the road.

So what exactly causes Alice in Wonderland syndrome?

Alice in Wonderland Syndrome

Todd found that these patients did not have brain tumors, impaired vision or mental illnesses. The patient was able to think clearly, distinguish between hallucinations and reality, but the perception was distorted.

Lippmann and Todd found that these hallucinations could be linked to migraines and epilepsy.

As early as 1913, the German-Jewish neurologist, Hermann Oppenheim, noticed this symptom in one of his migraine patients.

Create a classic by “being neurotic”?

Interestingly, many researchers, including Lippmann, suspect that “Alice in Wonderland” author Lewis Carroll was affected by migraines and had such hallucinations, since then. I just wrote a very famous fairy tale.

Lewis Carroll.

In 1856, Carroll consulted the famous ophthalmologist, William Bowman, about a vision disorder in his right eye. He also recorded in his diary “headaches” and visual disturbances in 1856. Nine years later, he finished writing “Alice in Wonderland”.

As you can see, mental illnesses like Alice in Wonderland Syndrome can indeed inspire some creators. It is thought that the German artist of the 20th century, Kaethe Kollwitz, was also affected by the disease.

As a result, Kollwitz’s art style shifted from Realism to Expressionism, using abstract images to express emotions.

Kasey Kollwitz.

In her diary, Kollwitz recounts how she was entangled with a sense of abstraction throughout her childhood.

She laments that sometimes things seem bigger or smaller. Sometimes she also felt like she was in a room without air or like she was sinking, disappearing.

So many speculated that Alice in Wonderland Syndrome was affecting her. It is possible that she still suffers from this syndrome as an adult, but she has kept it a secret. Many patients will keep it a secret to avoid being seen as a multiple personality.

This seems like a reasonable hypothesis since Alice in Wonderland Syndrome gained widespread attention only 10 years after Kollwitz’s death.

Woodblock print “Sacrifice” from the series “War”.

This may also explain why Kollwitz’s art objects are often depicted with large hands and faces. The distortions shown in her visual art may be related to perceptual experience.

Still a puzzle to be solved

However, for most people, Alice in Wonderland Syndrome causes psychological distress. The patient is immersed in hallucinations and occurs with greater frequency after sunset.

Most patients describe symptoms lasting 10 seconds to 10 minutes. Some become panic-stricken, fearful during hallucinations, and may even harm themselves or those around them.

Although Alice in Wonderland Syndrome can affect any age, it usually occurs in children, and most people who get it get rid of these symptoms as adults. Perhaps because these symptoms are usually harmless and go away on their own, patients do not need medication or surgery, and parents are less likely to take their children to the doctor because they still think that children are imaginative.

Interestingly, many studies have shown that parents of children with Alice in Wonderland syndrome often have similar symptoms in childhood, suggesting certain genetic traits.

However, until now, researchers have not found the exact cause of this rare neurological disease. It has been linked to many other diseases such as migraine, cerebral palsy, etc.

Therefore, there is currently no effective treatment plan, but we can only wait for it to disappear naturally.

As one of the ten rarest and strangest diseases in the world, Alice in Wonderland Syndrome may be more common than we think. A study of 3224 adolescents in Japan found that the prevalence of Micropsia and Macropsia in boys was 6.5% and 7.3%, respectively.

We know that both of these symptoms are manifestations of Alice in Wonderland Syndrome.

Although Alice in Wonderland Syndrome has been around for a long time, it is still an unsolved puzzle. However, Grant T. Liu, a pediatric neuro-ophthalmologist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and Owen Pickrell, a neurologist, see growing interest in the syndrome in the medical community. .

However, even if Alice in Wonderland Syndrome is named after a fairy tale, it is still a deadly disease.