Alice in Wonderland Syndrome


[ ♪INTRO ] Back in the 1950s, a psychiatrist described
a man who complained that his head felt “twice its normal size and as light as a feather.”
He also occasionally felt like one of his limbs was missing. Around the same time, another middle-aged
woman reported to a clinic that she felt that she “got so big that if [she] put out [her]
hand [she] could touch the far wall,” or that her hands would “drop off and disappear.” Curiouser and curiouser. At least, that’s
what the doctors thought — which is why these types of symptoms are known as Alice
in Wonderland Syndrome. Fortunately, these sorts of symptoms are rare
— and seem to be related to easily treatable conditions. Symptoms of Alice in Wonderland syndrome all
seem to involve distorted perception, and are most common in kids. In a 1998 paper, one child reported seeing
his TV screen upside down, and that the windows of his house seemed crooked. Another young girl reported seeing ghosts,
and people looking distorted. These are all examples of some common visual
hallucinations associated with the syndrome, all generally called metamorphopsia, or visual
distortions of size, movement, or color. Like perceiving things as smaller or larger
than they actually are. Other types can seem like looking at everything
through a telescope — or like looking at everything through the wrong end of a telescope. There are also auditory symptoms, like hearing
people’s voices become distorted, or hearing unexplained music, voices, or other noises. But there’s a key difference between these
hallucinations and ones you’d experience for other reasons, like drug use or schizophrenia. People with Alice in Wonderland syndrome always
seem to know they’re illusions. They don’t get confused about what’s real and what’s
not. So where do these weird sensations come from? Doctors first identified them as possibly
related in the early 1950s. . But according to more recent research, migraine
and epilepsy aren’t always involved. A more common explanation is that it’s a side effect
of having some kind of an infection. In fact, one common infection that’s been
proposed is the Epstein-Barr virus — more commonly known as mononucleosis, or mono. We’re not quite sure how infections could
cause hallucinations, but we have some ideas. One likely explanation is that an infection
could change how much oxygenated blood gets to certain regions of the brain involved in
processing sensory input. That 1998 study tested this idea with four
kids with Alice in Wonderland syndrome. That’s a small sample — but remember, it’s a pretty
rare condition. And they also checked to be sure these kids
didn’t have one of the other common explanations for the disorder, like migraine or epilepsy. Three of the four had had a recent upper respiratory
infection, and two had the Epstein-Barr virus. And all four kids experienced decreased blood
flow somewhere in their brain. The sides and parts of the brain involved
varied. But it was common for it to be somewhere near the visual pathway of the brain, in areas
where outside stimulation is known to create hallucinations. The researchers were reluctant to jump to
conclusions from such a small sample, but the data seem to fit a scenario in which the
infection reduces blood flow and affects visual processing. But in a pretty amazing case study in 2010,
one child experienced symptoms while in an MRI machine. Compared to a matched control participant,
the child had more activation in the parietal lobe, and less activation in vision centers,
while performing some spatial reasoning tasks. And while it’s never a great idea to draw
huge conclusions from a study with a sample size of one, it does fit some other things
we know about spatial reasoning. Like, we know the parietal lobe plays a big
role in spatial reasoning, and there’s a parietal visual pathway that’s typically associated
with perception of where things are in space. And other studies have linked parietal lobe
activation to illusions about the perceived size and shape of your body. For example, you can trick people into thinking
their waist is shrinking by having them put their hands on their hips while experimentally
vibrating some tendons in their wrists. In a study in 2005, people who felt that illusion
more strongly also had more activation in two parts of their parietal lobe, suggesting
they’re involved in your sense of how big your body is. But while this evidence points us in the right
direction, there’s still a lot of dots that need to be connected in explaining exactly
how these illusions emerge. In fact, about half of people who experience
these Alice-esque symptoms have no clear reason when diagnosed — no migraine, no infection,
nothing. The good news, though? It’s also pretty likely
for it to just… go away. Although there is one reported case of the
syndrome being the result of a rare degenerative brain disorder, many kids just grow out of
it — or find treatment for the underlying infection or migraine. Which relieves the
hallucinations. Lewis Carroll himself wrote in his diaries
about suffering from migraines. We definitely can’t know for sure whether he had these
kinds of symptoms. But given the similarity between the story
he wrote and the symptoms others have reported with migraine, some people have speculated
that perhaps he experienced these visual illusions himself — and thus Alice’s Wonderland was
inspired. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow
Psych. If you really want to go down a rabbit hole with us, check out our spin-off podcast,
SciShow Tangents. It’s made by some of the same folks who
bring you SciShow, but like… slightly more competitive, and with more science poems.
Check it out wherever you get your podcasts! [ ♪OUTRO ]

100 thoughts on “Alice in Wonderland Syndrome

  1. That's super cool. I think I had this as a kid. It happened most often after I woke up. My bedroom would look huge like things were way further away than they were. I never though of it this way, but I guess another way to think of it would be feeling like I had shrunken.

  2. I get some similar physical sensations occasionally, and have always associated them with my diagnosis of fibromyalgia.

  3. Speaking of Through The Looking Glass, I have this persistent illusion that a cheap crass half assed reality TV star is the president of the United States. Ridiculous, I know, but I can't seem to shake it.

  4. I usually feel like my hands are huge or tiny when I have a cold or the flu.
    It's so freaking weird and I can never sleep until it wears off lol

  5. Am I the only one seeing similarities in how Scishow hosts talk, move their hands, etc? At first I thought she was talking the same way as Reid Reimers from Scishow Space, but now I'm seeing facial expressions from Olivia Gordon.

  6. i remember having this as a kid. i remember sleeping in my moms bed and woke up and my vision was so zoomed in and it was like really feverish, like a fever dream. never had it since tho, cool to know this possibly what that memory is from

  7. When I was little I asked my parents why cars looked so small until I was up close to them. Now I feel like I can touch the wall across the room or slightly feel like everything is so round like I'm taller than people 3-5 feet from me even though they are probably thinking the same thing. Or this one time I layed my dirt bike on a steep hill and it looked like I was above my bike even though my bike was above me. Even took pictures of my bike and someone else saw the same thing. It's nothing crazy or life disrupting just interesting to see once in a while.

  8. I have occasionally had these visual disturbances all my life. It appears like I looked down wrong end of telescope. I tend to feel quite spaced out at the time and get cluster headaches. I also do get a lot of sinus infections infections . I had glandular fever at age 11 and after many years of poor health was diagnosed was Systemic lupus Erethatosis at age 25 years. I am now 39. I am now on several blood pressure medications to control my migraines.

  9. I had this a few times to but only when I was sick and had a fever. For me the room and bed became stretch out until I couldn't see the end anymore and I heard people talking but there was nobody home. When I told my mom she said it was a dream but I knew for sure it wasn't.
    Because it happened only a few times and always when I was sick with a fever for me I do think it was related but not just to one viris.

  10. Oh, alright. Turns out I had this as a kid, then. Sometimes when I laid in bed it would seem like the room was super big and I was super tiny, and the walls were very far away. It was super scary and I always hated it. It helped to lay flush with the wall, to remind myself that I could still reach a wall to begin with, but it didn't make it any less frightening. It happened most often when I had a fever, but also sometimes when I didn't have a fever at all.

  11. thanks sci show, now I've randomly burst out into choruses of "one pill makes you larger aaaaand one pill makes you small, and the ones that mother gives you don't dooooo anything at all." thanks for that.

  12. We all felt this way? But why, are we all just a small amount of the thats just " rare". Or some of us miss some privilege that there is something beautiful beyond?

  13. Ummm I'm pretty sure I have this but I've never been able to put it into words. Like I'll lie down to sleep and my head feels like it's 30ft wide, my fingers feel way longer than they actually are. It wouldn't bother me so much if it wasn't actually physically affecting my coordination. Some days it's bad enough that I have vertigo like symptoms and fall over, I particularly struggle with stairs. My doctor always just chalked it up to "cluster-B" symptoms and sent me on my way, which I feel is very unfair because it has nothing to do with cluster-B traits… How do I get help for this? I'm also curious if it's related to Renaud's Syndrome? (lack of oxygenated blood flow to fingers and toes)

  14. Some things I occasionally feel: things are in the wrong direction as if my perception of North has changed. Some days there isn't enough friction and things slide across tables and such to easy.

  15. Did I just learn where my weird hallucinations come from? Cause they started after I had mono and while I don't have epilepsy I have Tourette's and I get migraines frequently. I mainly just get the distorted voices and when I get visual stuff I feel like the room stretches on forever or like certain furniture becomes huge even though I know it's not. I need to do more research on this before I say I have it but if I can put a name to the cause of my unexplained hallucinations that'd be cool.

  16. I didn't think it was anything but there were times when I was a child that I'd think I was taller or bigger than usual and then I'd go back to normal after like 5 minutes. When I was a teenager though I did have a lot of auditory and visual hallucinations that I knew were not real. I still experience that 'wrong end of the telescope' or 'watching through a camera lens' these days. I thought it was an interesting note when they mentioned epilepsy, because there are at least 2 people in my family, one being my brother, who have epilepsy. Some other members of my family had seizures as children.

  17. When I was a kid I used to lie in my bed and my room was dimly lit by a nightlight. Sometimes my room would seem to start to shrink and the walls and windows would begin to come towards me and I'd start to get slight anxiety. Only lasted a few seconds.

  18. it makes me wonder how rare it actually is, if so many of the kids who experience it never talked about it. I used to lie in bed and oscillate between feeling bigger and feeling small, as if the surface of my skin retracted to my bones. I don’t think i’ve ever talked about it before

  19. I periodically get the sensation that my hands are huge and everything feels weird. I've had this for many many years (I'm 48) and it usually lasts a couple of hours. I have no other health issues that would possibly cause it. Just some odd phenomenon. Glad to see this isn't such an uncommon thing. 🙂

  20. I had this once when I was probably 9-10 or so when I had a hallucination that I grew to the size of my room and I couldn’t get out because I was bigger than my door. I’ve had other hallucinations in my life in manic episodes and I was diagnosed w/ bipolar 1 when I was 18. Idk if they were correlated

  21. I can’t confirm that I have this syndrome (as I have not been medically diagnosed), but I experience many of the symptoms (i.e small hands and feet, minute faces with bulging bodies, the appearance of walls and the TV far away). These perceptions can occur at randoms while watching television and even at the diner table. However, the effects are most present when I am experiencing a fever or tired. I’m now I’m my 30s and have had these symptoms since I was very young. Once when I approximately 8 years old, it appeared as though I were pregnant. These abstract hallucinations still quite common but I’ve found that to subdue them, I need but only leave the room or close my eyes for about 5-10 minutes. Notwithstanding, I can’t confirm that I actually have this condition as I have not been medically tested and diagnosed.

  22. Give an 80 year old a urinary tract infection (or any other moderately severe infection really), they'll give you a trip to 1960 & potentially a few bruises. Their altered mental status rarely manifests Alice in Wonderland symptoms; though hallucinations, confusion, and agitation are common. It wouldn't surprise me if other psychiatric anomalies were found to be linked to bacterial or viral infections.

  23. I remember having illusions like that when I was young. Hasn't happened since. I don't have migraines but I have cluster headaches that, in some ways, are related to migraines.

  24. The infection hypothesis seems probable, based on the observation of health professionals that elderly patients will sometimes hallucinate when fighting an infection. It's not the Alice in Wonderland kind of hallucination, though, more the common there-are-ants-everywhere-get-them-off-of-me kind. It happened recently to my grandmother and seriously freaked the family out. It's not a direct connection, but it suggests a connection.

  25. I have this, it's part of my seizure disorder. When I'm in an aura, about to have a seizure, I feel like my body turns into a Rubix cube. Everything gets all mixed up in the wrong place. My hands are usually so far away from me. My legs aren't even attached to me. My feet go through the floor like clipping through a video game. It's absolutely wild, and, while cool, is very scary when it means that a seizure is happening soon. I tend to just curl up in a ball to get all of my body as close to myself as possible and wait.

  26. Oh wow, I just realized I may had an Alice in wonderland syndrome once. I woke up at night and looked up and the ceiling and my view was shattered like broken glass of a mirror and I had the feeling that there wasn't an up or a down anymore. It was so f*ckin strange. I was scared, turned my head into the pillow and hold my eyes closed til I fell asleep again.

  27. People are over exaggerating what this syndrome is. Hallucinations such as seeing figues are extremely far fetched and arnt to true. I suffer from it till this very day and everything gets small and distancing makes no sense, i cant say if the distancing is futher away or closer but its definitely different. Its almost impossible to explain. I wanna say i feel higher but im not sure.

  28. I’m someone who has this. I’ve never had a doctor say yeah you’ve got this but I’ve literally had all the symptoms (mostly when I was younger) like my perception being out of whack. After telling my mom about this when I was little she actually did go to a doctor about it and he just kinda shrugged at her. Like what always happened to me is my hands would become extremely small and people’s head would become super small. People would appear to speak very slow but my thoughts would feel extremely fast and as if someone, not myself, was yelling my own thoughts to me. Also time, despite the room feeling slow, time would appear extremely like I’d be at one end of the room to the next in a second. It’s really hard to describe sometimes of what it’s like but hoooo boy it’s trippy. And it doesn’t help the fact that it typically happened, for me anyways, after a headache and/or after or during being sick.

  29. I frequently had this when I was a kid from 8-18yo. I never knew that my migraine caused it which I also suffer from even as a child till now that I'm 25. The episodes usually kicks in between 12midnight to 3am and last about 15-30mins. But i never told a single soul about it cause I can't even begin to explain it. Like everything is so damn far yet so microscopically near, my body is overwhelmingly big yet so small like a grain of sand, every texture I see and touch is so rough yet so smooth. Honestly the weirdest feeling anyone could experience

  30. Had this since childhood , most common on falling asleep but on very rare occasion happens waking, it’s always a distortion of scale and distance of surroundings, things look bigger but further away …

    It’s odd but I’ve become so used to it I do think about it anymore , incidents have become rarer I have gotten older , approaching my 50’s the last time it happened was a couple of years ago.

  31. Had it were for a couple weeks my perception of time would alter in a way to make time speed up and everything would be quicker every now n then. That was a be weird.

  32. I'm mindblown. I experienced this as a child, quite commonly. Horrible feeling. So glad it wore off. I will send this to my mother so she finally knows what was up with that. Thank you!

  33. I had this too where everything would feel really far away and small like when looking through the wrong end of binocluars. I would wake up in the middle of the night, my heart racing and my thoughts feeling really slow and loud like if a giant was saying them. I always panicked and ran into my parents bedroom yelling "I see everything small, I see everything small!".

    I recently experienced this again after I smoked weed and closed my eyes, that time it felt kind of funny instead of anxiety-inducing though. I was able to keep my eyes closed and experience the feeling fully. Really weird, nice to see I'm not alone though.

  34. As I fall asleep at night my hands and arms become huge in my mind. I find it only happens when I'm over tired. And it's not exactly like that, but it isn't exactly describable. 🤷

  35. I think I had this when I was 9 (1982). In bed at night while sick (not sure from what, probably a cold), when I would look at something across my bedroom it would be far away and then very close (zoomed in) switching from one to the other and back. It was almost dizzying. I think I had this a couple more times while a teen. No epilepsy here. My mother did have migraines back then.

  36. Epstein-barr virus, the only virus that doesn't try kill the host bc then it would die instead. And we all know epstein diddnt kill himself.

  37. Funny thing is. As a child when I had heavy fever, my hands and arms felt weirdly plump and thick. Like, when I was in bed and put my hands on my chest, I could really feel how they change in size. I got that feeling only once in. My aduld life. Back in the days I never was afraid of it. I was stoked by it. Though I thought that it was a normal thing having a fever or being sick. Just recently I found out it was some kind of fever hallucinations. It's also linked to the Alice in Wonderland Syndrome. I am actually kinda sad, that I don't have them that often anymore.

  38. I was diagnosed with this recently. I can't count how many times I have walked around my car thinking for sure that my car is lower, like my tires are flat. I've jumped back from my son when he reached out an arm to hug me (he was standing, to my eyes it looked like he was trying to grab my feet). I also have auditory issues (doing dishes makes me dizzy, certain quite sounds literally hurt my ears). I have polyneuropathy due to demyelination and brain lesions, maybe it's connected?

  39. I have this sometimes, mostly when I am very tired. My hands look very small themselves and all other objects around me as well seem very distant. It's likely that I am low on oxygen while having it.

  40. I would have dreams of walking down a staircase and my fingers would be as thick as rolling pins while the banister was as thin as toothpicks.

  41. Ever since I was young and even to this day I can almost trick my brain into thinking I’m as small as a crumb or as large as a room. Usually my eyes are closed and it’s a trigger from stress wanting to feel as small as possible and sometimes it’s a positive trigger of me being very comfortable and tiny in large spaces. Don’t know if it’s the same thing but I do actually feel that size when I really focus on it.

  42. I feel like I get something similar to this, but it's not really debilitating in any way. Happens a lot when drowsy, ill or if I've been focusing too hard on something. Getting up and walking around usually helps me shake it off.

  43. So vibrating belts, either old or modern, merely make you feel like the pounds are melting away when you put your hands on your hips? Great scam!🙂

  44. Wow, I had that as a kid, never told anyone though and I've had migraines throughout all my life. Never thought this could be related

  45. Each time that I have ever had a fever, I have felt that the room was bigger than it was but not at the same time, and it was horrifying when I was younger since I couldn't explain it to my mother so I just cried and pointed at wherever it was since I knew something was off

    Now it doesn't occur as much when I am sick but the feeling of the room being bigger than it is is still slight

  46. Most of the time, I hate seeing people talking on my infomercial video, but this is educating and you have amazing way of captivating your audience, ma'am 👍

  47. There's also Bigfoot Syndrome where the person sees themselves with bigger feet when they take ecstasy. It's weird cuz you look like a clown if you have shoes on 😂

  48. I wonder if I have this. It would explain a weird hallucination I've had at least once a week through most of my adulthood: when I see people moving their hands while talking, I always feel like they have too many fingers, like five or six per hand. I'd love it if someone could say that yeah, that could be AIWS – or even that they have the same hallucination I do. I've never met anyone else who sees this effect.

    For background, I did suffer from migraines from puberty through my 20's, I have frequent sinus and bronchial infections, and I also have high-functioning autism.

  49. doubt this is actually what I had but as a kid I used hallucinate creatures being in my room or being able to see weird vampire things through those squiglys you get in your eyes when you look at the sun

  50. Holy Crap. Ive been wondering what was up with that my whole life but nobody really ever understood what I was talking about when I would tell them about it. In school sometimes it would seem like I was looking through some sort of lens, sometimes out of nowhere the teacher would shrink while the room stretched and while we would take tests it felt like my pencil was giant and the lead was being scene through the wrong end of a telescope, same with watching TV. Even weirder when I'd get normal fevers or the flu and there was a clock on the wall i would get zoomed in and every a of the second hand that passed gave me this phantom sensation of something tiny with a lot of weight being dropped in my head. The only underlying condition I have a congenital heart condition called Tetralogy of Fallot.

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