This week’s lesson on perception caused me to consider the amazing ability of the brain , and how fortunate we are to be blessed with such a complex organ. Most, if not all of us, take these intricate processes of perception and sensation for granted, so this thought led me to research some diseases that affect an individual’s perception.
One of the most intriguing diseases that affect a person’s ability to perceive objects correctly is called, interestingly enough, Alice in Wonderland Syndrome, or AIWS, for short. It can also be referred to as Todd’s Syndrome, after Dr. John Todd, who extensively researched the disease after being puzzled by several patients who suffered from the syndrome. AIWS is indeed named after Lewis Carroll’s book, where Alice suffers some trippy hallucinations. Carroll himself was also said to have suffered from migraines and hallucinations, thus turning his personal experience into a popular tale. Those afflicted with AIWS often suffer from micropsia, in which objects are often perceptually smaller than they are in reality; and macropsia, which oppositely causes perceptions of objects being considerably larger than they truly are. Also present are teliopsia, in which objects are observed as small and far away, and peliopsia, in which objects seem uncomfortably close and large. These four disorders are generally either caused by optical irregularities or neurological issues. Psychoactive drugs may also cause similar hallucinations, or they may also be a result of migraines or brain tumors (http://www.smashinglists.com/10-strange-mental-conditions/2/).
Just like in Carroll’s story, AIWS predominately exists in children through adults in their 20s, and the hallucinations can also occur during the first stages of sleep. The main reason for AIWS is an excessive amount of electrical impulses in the brain, which also causes increased blood flow in the parietal lobe, which is responsible for perceptual contexts. In addition to the issues mentioned above, Alice in Wonderland Syndrome can also cause auditory and touch issues, as well as forms of body dysmorphia. However, this type of body dysmorphia is not the kind where a person perceives themselves as too skinny or overweight, but rather he or she may see a tiny arm or an over-sized foot (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alice_in_Wonderland_syndrome).
Recently, Helene Stapinski wrote an insightful article for the New York Times, in which she revealed that after finding that both she and her daughter suffered from AIWS, several more members in her family admitted that they too, had experienced such hallucinations in their younger years. Stapinski spoke with neurologist Dr. Sheena Aurora, who was amazed that so many individuals in one family were affected with AIWS, as it is considered to be quite rare. It is surmised that perhaps this issue, while uncommon, may be less rare than initially thought, as many individuals are reluctant to admit they have it, for fear of being labeled as insane. (http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/06/23/alice-in-wonderland-syndrome/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0&module=ArrowsNav&contentCollection=Health&action=keypress®ion=FixedLeft&pgtype=Blogs).
We often read books and watch movies for their entertainment value, and before researching perceptual disorders, I never fathomed that Alice in Wonderland was based on any iota of truth. I just always assumed that it was made of the stuff of a child’s overactive imagination. Knowing that it is an actual disease, makes me even more appreciative that my brain processes and perceives information and objects in the manner in which it is meant. That being said, sometimes we need to stop and be grateful for our mental health and the unconscious processes we often do not even think about.