I recently reviewed the latest film production of Lewis Carroll’s hit book “Alice in Wonderland.” In the review I noted that I was never particularly fond of the book myself as a child. Even then, I picked up on all the drug references and they bothered me greatly.
Having come from a traumatic childhood with a father than exhibited traits much like that of the Red Queen, the story also hit a bit too close to home for me. My mother, while intending well most of her life, was much like the White Queen in that she was noncommittal. She expected someone else to come along and solve the problem for her rather than attempting to solve it herself.
Nonetheless, the story of “Alice in Wonderland” has always held a weird sense of fascination for me. That is why when I heard about a psychological state of being known as Alice in Wonderland Syndrome, I had to learn more about it.
The syndrome was discovered in 1995 by a British psychiatrist named John Todd. He gave it its name, based on the Lewis Carroll classic, because of the similarities between the Alice’s experiences and those of the syndrome’s sufferers.
Todd discovered that some of the patients under his care exhibited both physical and mental distortions similar in nature to those outlined so vividly within the Lewis Carroll story. These patients saw and perceived things greatly out of proportion.
Another aspect of the syndrome that Todd found intriguing was the fact that many of the corresponding patients also suffered from severe migraine headaches. Since Carroll himself was a well-known migraine sufferer, Todd began to wonder if it was the syndrome and not the author’s imagination that lay claim to his famous tale.
Much as Alice perceived herself inside the Carroll story, Alice in Wonderland Syndrome sufferers have an altered sense of time, a distorted look of their own image, as well as a change in their sense of touch and feeling. There is; however, no actual damage to the eyesight or even to the mind’s intelligence. It is all about a skewed sense of perception.
In other words, while the eyes might actually “see” something in the proper size, height and depth, the mind skews that perception to make it appear differently. It could look taller or shorter, wider or thinner or even out of proportion.
Distance is also affected. For example, a six-foot hallway might look like it goes on for miles, starting wider at the opening and narrowing as it continues.
When it comes to touch, an object might feel spongy or grainy. The ground beneath could make the sufferer “feel” like they are trying to walk through quicksand rather than the hardness of terra firma. Clothing might feel like heavy weights on the body or one might not feel it at all, giving them a fear of shrinking away from it.
Time itself could appear to have slowed to a crawl or sped up to an incredibly fast pace. The sense of balance may be lost, making the sufferer feel as if he or she is falling, spinning or standing and moving at an angle.
Sound may also be distorted. Noises may seem overtly loud one minute and barely audible the next. They might also appear muffled or garbled.
The senses of smell or taste can sometimes be altered as well. Everything, for example, might smell like fish or taste like garlic.
Some people who have this syndrome also exhibit a sense of paranoia, at varying degrees. They may feel like someone is watching them or have a full-blown fear that someone is out to get them. They can be frightened of the littlest thing, like a pice of lint, or exhibit no fear of things they should, like fire.
All or parts of these symptoms can be exhibited at once or in bits and pieces. That is what makes the syndrome one of the least understood and most frightening.
For reasons not completely understood, Alice in Wonderland Syndrome seems to affect children more than adults. Those adults that do suffer from it usually encounter it early in adulthood and, in many cases, it disappears over time.
Those suffering from the condition may exhibit the symptoms regularly. Others can go for long periods of time without incident. Many never report the symptoms at all for fear of being labeled crazy, schizophrenic or even psychotic. That is why some 55 years later, little is still understood about this condition.
Treated with beta-blockers and medications to prevent epilepsy or migraines, Alice in Wonderland Syndrome can often be controlled. However, there is no known medical cure for the condition via drug or psychological treatment.