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Why ‘Alice in Wonderland Syndrome’ is more complex than you think

Farid Alsabeh
8 min readNov 12, 2022

You may have heard of a curious psychological condition known as ‘Alice in Wonderland Syndrome’ (AIWS). Like the literary character who inspired its name, it can involve staggering distortions in our perception of size. Some people get the sense that they’re growing into the size of the room — others, that they’re shrinking to vanishingly small scales.

But the full scope of AIWS is, if you can image, even stranger than this: distortions in perceived size are only the tip of the psychological iceberg. And a more comprehensive look at this syndrome might even lead you to recognize some of its symptoms in your own experience — as, one study showed, up to 30% of us can.


In the 1930s, a British psychiatrist named John Todd started noticing something odd. Some of his migraine and epilepsy patients were frequently reporting transient changes in their perceptions. Two of the most striking symptoms observed were changes in perceived body sizes, with patients reporting becoming much larger or much smaller, along with changes in the size of specific body parts, like hands and feet.

Since the eponymous heroine of Alice in Wonderland has a similarly bizarre experience, Todd decided…