Living Next Door to Alice

"Aha!" said the mind of Virge. I'd forgotten about that.

What I had experienced occasionally as a kid was known about back in 1955, well before I was born. Alice in Wonderland Syndrome, illusory distortions of size, distance or position of stationary objects, was something that happened to me. I can't recall how old I was at the time, probably 6-12. (It's not something I associate with the later years of secondary school, so it was definitely before then.) It wasn't frequent either. Just every now and then, everything would seem dramatically bigger, or sometimes small and further away than expected. The sensation never lasted for more than a couple of minutes. Everything would revert to match my normal perceptions, usually within seconds.

Because it was infrequent, it didn't cause me much concern. There were plenty more things for a kid to worry about. When we asked a doctor about it, he went through the expected questions about drug use and illnesses, but didn't have anything to connect the experiences to. It would have been amazing if he'd been familiar with J Todd's study, and for him to research that fairly innocuous symptom would have been a waste of time and effort back in those information-poor days. Nevertheless, one of the final sentences of Todd's article rings true to me:

In the writer's experience, the anxiety of these patients can be appreciably lessened by an assurance that these symptoms are not necessarily the prelude to insanity.

It would have been comforting to know then what Vaughan posted in Mind Hacks today:

Children often experience it but grow out of it as they reach adulthood (both of which happened to me).


For a period of about a year, I used to get migraines. No headache; just flashing colored lights that began on the fringes of my vision and moved inward until about half of my sight was obscured and I could only see straight ahead of me. Then they would suddenly cut out, leaving emptiness behind. This partial blindness would slowly recede back outward until I had full vision again. The whole thing lasted around 5-10 minutes.

And just once I apparently had a sort of seizure: I asked the people in the room with me, "What's that awful smell?" No one knew what I was talking about. I'm not sure if I did anything else, but I came to about a minute later. I don't remember any of this, by the way.

After that, my father took me to get my brain scanned. The EEG apparently disclosed some sort of epilectic patterns. The doctor said I would grow out of it and apparently I did. After that year, the migraines became much rarer and eventually stopped, and as far as I know, I never had another seizure.

Hmm, that didn't really have too much to do with your post except that children sometimes have strange mental conditions that they grow out of. Your Alice in Wonderland syndrome sounds intriguing, though. Maybe even a little bit fun. Don't people take drugs to achieve similar effects?

I guess the advantage in taking drugs to achieve similar effects is that you know what's causing the distortions of your reality. You feel in control of your own lack of control. It doesn't make one immediately fear the loss of sanity.

One thing that surprised me as I started reading more about mind (both in books and on blogs like Mind Hacks1) was that hallucinations, visions, waking dreams, hearing sounds and voices, and other distortions of senses are much more prevalent that I had imagined (schizophrenia in about 1%; some form of psychosis at some time in 10-20% of the population). This is just the sort of thing that people aren't keen to share because of the stigmatization of the "madman".

It's relatively easy to talk about something that can be related to a migraine or a faint. It's also easy to talk about distortions that we experienced as children but have now grown out of. (At least I find it so.) We can compartmentalize these events and say "that's not me here and now." We can go back to our normal confidence of being autonomous rational agents, trusting our own judgment and expecting others to share it.

One can see how easy it would be to interpret mild symptoms of psychosis in supernatural terms. It externalizes the loss of control. This is very much a tangent to the topic under discussion, but it sprang to mind because I recently heard of an acquaintance who had been experiencing demons trying to get into her house. Her mental breakdown followed some time later. Being aware of the prevalence of psychosis, I (at a distance) interpret the story without recourse to supernatural explanations, although I know that others find the narrative of demonic attack to be more compelling.