What Is Alice in Wonderland Syndrome?

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By amanda
Jul 31, 2020
Medical Expert Medical Expert

The term Alice in Wonderland Syndrome (AWS) was first coined in the 1950s by British psychiatrist Jon Todd to describe episodes of altered reality. Patients with this syndrome describe feeling larger or smaller than normal and having other strange visual and auditory perceptions of the world. The episodes last up to 30 minutes and occur at frequencies varying from several times per day to once per month or less.

Todd named the suite of symptoms after the children’s book “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll. First published in 1865, this fantastical story describes a little girl, Alice, who falls down a rabbit hole into a magical world where the ordinary rules of reality do not apply. Read these 10 facts about AWS to discover its treatment, cause, and what its symptoms have in common with the beloved children’s book.

1. Misperception of Body Size

The primary symptom reported by most people with Alice in Wonderland Syndrome is a misperception that his or her body, or a part of the body, is a different size than normal. Macrosomatognosia is the term for feeling larger and microsomatognosia for feeling smaller than usual. The parts of the body most commonly affected are the head and hands, which are usually perceived as too large.

Probably the best-remembered scene from “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” is in Chapter 2, after Alice reaches the bottom of the rabbit hole. She discovers a bottle with a sign that says “drink me” and after doing so, shrinks to a height of 10 inches. She then finds a small cake with the words “eat me” spelled out in currants, and after eating it grows to 9 feet tall. A little fan and pebbles that turn into cakes also cause her to shrink. Later her neck lengthens and is mistaken by a bird for a snake.

Alice In Wonderland Syndrome

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