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What is Alice in Wonderland Syndrome?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Alice in Wonderland syndrome (AIWS) is a neurological disorder that disrupts the messages sent from the eyes to the brain, causing a corresponding distortion in visual perception. This condition can also cause strange distortions in the sense of touch and sound in the patient. Children are most commonly afflicted with AIWS, although it can set in at adulthood as well. This syndrome can be confusing and frightening for the patient, as it can feel like he or she is going crazy in a strange, Lilliputian world with fractured vision and odd hallucinations.

This condition is also known as micropsia, a reference to the fact that objects, animals, and people often appear to shrink in the hallucinations associated with it. The original name was coined in 1955, and it references the strange events in the novel of the same name by Lewis Carroll. Some researchers suspect that the condition may have affected Carroll himself, and perhaps this is why the visions in the book seem so frighteningly real to some readers.

In the most common form of Alice in Wonderland syndrome, the patient hallucinates, thinking that objects around him or her are growing or shrinking. The sense of distance may be impaired as well, with objects suddenly seeming very close, or far away. Some people also experience distortion in the perception of their body parts, thinking that various parts of them are larger or smaller than they should be.

In some cases, the sense of touch may be distorted. Sufferers can think that they are sinking into the floor or passing through walls, and they may experience fractured vision that looks like a complex mosaic. Auditory hallucinations can occur as well, with sounds seeming louder, softer, closer, or further than they really are. This condition can be very disorienting and sometimes scary.

Alice in Wonderland syndrome is linked with several conditions. It is most commonly associated with migraines and severe headaches, and it can serve as a warning for the onset of a serious migraine. It has also been linked with epilepsy and the onset of mononucleosis, and with the use of some recreational drugs. Micropsia is a cause for concern because it can be a sign of an underlying medical condition, and people who suffer from it should seek medical attention. A healthcare professional may be able to offer treatment for the cause of the condition, along with tips for dealing with the symptoms.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon924952 — On Jan 08, 2014

I came across this only last week. My daughter woke up saying she was shrinking and I was growing taller. She was beside herself with panic and she was really hot as well. It took a good 15 minutes to calm her down and get her temperature to a normal level. She woke up twice later that night with the same thing.

I'm so glad we found out it was an actual syndrome and are taking her to a GP to get some more answers.

It was the most horrifying thing as a parent, as you don't seem to be able to do anything and the sufferer is adamant it is happening.

I suffer from migraines, but have never had this effect, so I can only hope it is that and nothing more serious.

By anon349543 — On Sep 27, 2013

I remember as kid having this weird sensation some nights of being super heavy. I couldn't bring myself to move, or even think for that matter. Every thought felt like a thread trying to make it's way through thick molasses, the tiniest movement of the eye was a herculean effort. It only happened at night, when I was awake (ish) and no size or shape disproportions occurred, although I did have two or three hallucinations. It never freaked me out badly enough to tell my parents I don't think.. probably because since I felt like a boulder I wasn't capable of freaking out. In fact, only when I got older did it really strike me: "hm that was odd wasn't it" but I never thought about it seriously till now. AIWS reminds me of that experience.

By anon343020 — On Jul 26, 2013

@ddljohn: I had the same thing and thought it was Alice in Wonderland syndrome. As child in bed at night in the dark, when I was not asleep, my perceptions changed. The main sensation was feeling big, like if my hand was half a meter from my face, but felt like it was only centimetres from my face. I started having chronic migraines from age 20, still have migraines at 50 and started getting AWS again.

By anon328793 — On Apr 05, 2013

I remember being five or so and having a high fever and experiencing this phenomenon where every thing would be either two big or two small and I would hear what sounded like a million people talking at once. I don't think I told anyone and if I did I was a weird kid so they probably would have dismissed it. The experience went away in late adolescence and came back in my early 20s in college and continued in my 20s. They went away for a few years and I had a new occurrence a few months ago that prompted me to talk to my doctor during my 40 year old check up.

My experiences are similar to those presented, but my perceptions of the symptoms are different. I would see things both bigger and smaller than they really are. I would feel 20 feet tall or one inch tall. Time would not necessarily slow down as much as it appears like there was no such thing as time. The ceiling would appear a mile away and the floor only inches from my neck. The hall would be a mile away. I could hear what sounds like a million individual conversations in which I could distinguish each individual conversation. At the same time it would be so quit that I could hear a pin drop.

My symptoms would start always when I was alone. I could be watching television for a long period of time, playing a video game, or reading a book for an extended period. This is why I would not think that it was anything more than my eyes was tired or something. This is simply how I rationalized what was happening.

It was not until my recent episode that I knew something was wrong because the symptoms started in my sleep and this has not happened since I was a little boy and I knew that my eyes being tired could not have anything to do with it. I did a goggle search and my life changed. No longer did I think I was crazy. My doctor believes that I am having frontal lobe epileptic seizures. I have an appointment with a neurologist to confirm, but I am just relieved to know I am not crazy.

By anon302439 — On Nov 09, 2012

My mom was terrified that I was very sick as a child because I would wake up in the night and scream and cry for hours. She would hold me, sing to me, and try anything to calm me down. I had visions of the clock on the wall growing very large and the TV shrinking at the same time. The roman numerals on the clock would jump down and chase me, I would see a large eyeball in my closet door looking and blinking at me, a huge egg would hatch a monster at the end of my bed - all kinds of crazy stuff. The doctor said I was having night terrors, which was true in a way, but now we think it may have been this syndrome.

They started when I was 2 and ended by age 9. I started having migraines as a senior in high school and I still have them at 40. I get the terrible headache, nausea, sometimes vomiting, light and sound sensitivity, and only sleeping seems to fix it. They have changed some over the years, both in symptoms and severity. I would say they are worse now, but I have them less often. Sometimes I can get them to go away with Tylenol if I catch them early enough, but I usually just have to suffer for a while.

I was lucky to have never experienced the body distortions or feeling like the ground was spongy or I could walk through the walls. I also never had these distortions in my regular waking life - only after I had been asleep a few hours. I have had the sensation of being paralyzed upon waking once in a great while, though. It is almost like your mind is awake, but your body hasn't caught up yet. That is quite frightening, too, until a minute or two passes and your eyes finally open and your body starts moving. I have also always had very vivid and intense dreams - some of which have come true in some way. Maybe it is all related.

Anyway, it is nice to know that I am not slightly crazy and not alone in this experience.

By anon293549 — On Sep 26, 2012

As a kid I used to suffer from this. The world would either seem to get larger or me smaller, or both. It was very, very scary, then I went through the migraine bit as a teenager. I still remember it now.

By anon291568 — On Sep 15, 2012

As a child, I had micropsia on several occasions. It was as if whatever I was looking at just zoomed to a small size. It was very strange and I also used to have feelings of unreality; I used to say to my family, "I feel as if I'm not here." These lasted a few seconds or about a minute. I grew out of it, especially the micropsia, which ended with childhood. I suppose it's relevant that in adulthood I developed severe migraine, which has continued all my life.

By anon290216 — On Sep 08, 2012

I've had this syndrome for a long time since the age of 7.

My entire world would get smaller and smaller to the size of a pea. Then sometimes it would grow to each corner of the room. Then some nights, it would be me who was growing.

I even have it now at the age of 21.

None of my family or friends believed me, but now I know what I have, I can now talk to them and discuss it further.

By anon278624 — On Jul 08, 2012

Trust me, having this problem is far from "Wonderland". Years and years of doctors telling my parents when I was a kid that I was "telling stories" ended in frustration and fear of being called insane.

Finally, one neurologist at Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia empathized and told my parents he had heard others report this as well. I am now 43 and still have this issue, migraines and what is called "migralepsy" - seizures brought on by migraines.

By wavy58 — On Sep 14, 2011

I have a friend who dropped acid in the sixties and experienced Alice in Wonderland Syndrome. It became his reality for several days, and he ended up in a mental institution because of it.

He said he looked into a mirror and saw his face melting off like candle wax. Animals started talking to him. People’s noses seemed overly elongated.

The acid trip went bad when he started to see his own coffin and his body lying inside. He was at his funeral, and no one could hear him shouting that he wasn’t dead.

His psychiatrist helped him out of his unreality. To this day, though, certain things trigger flashbacks, and he breaks out in a sweat.

By lighth0se33 — On Sep 13, 2011

@ddljohn - I experience something like this when I’m dozing. The corner of the room first feels very far away, and then, it’s closer than it really is. The bed and my body grow larger, but then they shrink. If I open my eyes, it goes away.

I have never felt this while I’m awake, though. Sometimes, if I stare at the grass, I see it shifting in a circular direction in a rhythm like a clock ticking. That is the closest thing to waking hallucinations that I have.

I wonder what we are experiencing at night when things are not as they seem. It is quite disturbing, and I have trouble falling asleep when I don’t feel sturdy.

By kylee07drg — On Sep 12, 2011

My younger sister had this syndrome for awhile. She didn’t know it at the time, but she was about to become ill with mononucleosis.

The fever had already set in, so we attributed her crazy talk to the rise in body temperature. The cool thing is that she didn’t find her new reality frightening at all. She relished it. She told us that she felt like she was in the Alice in Wonderland movie.

My mother did take her to the doctor, who reassured her that this was somewhat normal. Basically, he told her all she could do was give her acetaminophen to control the fever.

My sister was having so much fun in her new frame of mind that she was sad when it went away. I guess it all depends on your personality type whether you find it scary or awesome.

By shell4life — On Sep 12, 2011

I experienced Alice in Wonderland Syndrome before getting a really bad migraine headache once. It freaked me out pretty badly. I had a panic attack because of it.

I felt like the very foundation of physics had failed me. Everything that was accepted and true dissipated into this crazy realm where my finger was the size of my face and my house the size of a doghouse. I pinched myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.

I take medication now to prevent migraines. I don’t want to ever go through that weirdness again, but if I do, at least I will know that it is an actual syndrome and not just a breakdown of my brain.

By SteamLouis — On Sep 11, 2011

@turkay1-- That's because some seizures cause Alice in Wonderland Syndrome. My cousin, for example, has Temporal Lobe Epilepsy and she is also suffering from Alice in Wonderland Syndrome because of it. In fact, she realizes that she is having a seizure when she either has a migraine and/or starts having the Alice in Wonderland symptoms.

She will run into things in the house because she thinks that it is really far away. Or I will be saying something right behind her and she thinks that I'm talking to her from the basement. She also says that the TV screen gets huge sometimes and then shrinks back.

These only happen during the seizure though. When she has a seizure I will see her staring at something super confused. A few minutes later, she will be like "oh, I just had a seizure."

By candyquilt — On Sep 10, 2011

What exactly is the connection between Alice in Wonderland Syndrome and seizures? Why do some people who have this say that it only happens at the same time as their seizures?

By ddljohn — On Sep 10, 2011

@EdRick-- I was thinking along the same lines!

I agree with all of you that this sounds like a scary syndrome.

I experience something similar, but only when I'm asleep, or half-asleep. As I'm falling into sleep or trying to wake up, sometimes I feel like my body is growing into a huge size, spreading and taking over everything. Sometimes it also feels like one of my limbs is getting larger and larger.

Like I said though, it only happens when I'm not fully asleep or awake and I only feel that I'm getting larger, never smaller.

I know this is not Alice in Wonderland Syndrome, it's never happened to me when I'm up and awake. I ran into this syndrome trying to find out what I have and learned that a lot of people experience similar things.

Some people have only a few Alice in Wonderland symptoms, some have all and very intensely. I've also heard that it runs in some families, and everyone in that family experiences this as a child.

I'm also wondering if what I'm experiencing and Alice in Wonderland Syndrome have the same cause.

By EdRick — On Sep 09, 2011

I never heard of this before! It sounds terrifying.

I've heard of other peculiar sensory conditions, though. Like synesthesia; that's the one where people smell colors or hear tastes, that kind of thing. They might perceive letters of the alphabet as having colors even if they're all printed in black ink.

I wonder if different sensory conditions like these have similar causes, or if they're just completely unrelated.

By SauteePan — On Sep 09, 2011

It must be really hard to suffer from this Alice in Wonderland syndrome because it is so rare and not many people really understand it.

I read that Lewis Carroll, who wrote the Alice and Wonderland book suffered from severe migraines that were associated with this Alice in Wonderland syndrome which was his inspiration for writing the book.

I never knew that this was the idea behind the book. I always thought that this was just another children's story. The strange occurrences in the book do make a lot more sense now.

By manykitties2 — On Sep 08, 2011

@popcorn - I think that the pictures of those suffering from Alice in Wonderland Syndrome might be a bit much for you. They make me think of survivors who have undergone some sort of mental torture.

It is really fascinating to me that the Alice in Wonderland book may have actually been based on micropsia. As a child, reading about all the strange and unusual sights was a thrill, but nowadays, thinking that someone may have lived through that, it kind of takes the fun out of the book. I don't think I'll be able to watch another Alice in Wonderland movie in quite the same way.

By popcorn — On Sep 08, 2011

Alice in Wonderland Syndrome sounds like an incredibly frightening thing to have happen to you. When I was younger I always felt that being able to go on some of the wonderland adventures might be fun, but it seems like the sensation of getting too small or too big would just be downright scary.

Does anyone have any idea about whether or not Alice in Wonderland Syndrome pictures are disturbing or not?

I am thinking about running a search, and I don't want to end up disturbing myself. I can imagine that having horrible hallucinations takes a toll on the body.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Learn more
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