What are the mental illnesses illustrated in Alice in wonderland?

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In this blog we will discuss the various mental illnesses and disorders that were hinted at or illustrated in the story of “Alice in wonderland” by Lewis Carroll. 

What are the mental illnesses illustrated in Alice in wonderland?

While the story, Alice in wonderland, itself seems to be innocent with its fantastic storytelling, imaginative creatives, and wild, almost magical themes, Carroll seems to include experiences related to very real mental illnesses. 

Some of the mental illnesses hinted at by Carroll include:

  • Alice in wonderland syndrome
  • Depersonalisation
  • Prosopagnosia

The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland also known as Alice in wonderland is a 1865 children’s novel by Lewis Carroll who first conjured the story for the Liddle sister’s during when he was a mathematics teacher.

The story follows the adventures of a little girl named Alice who falls through a rabbit hole into a fantasy world of strange creatures, and stranger experiences, and a very subtle theme of not wanting to grow up. 

Alice in wonderland Syndrome/ Todd’s syndrome or dysmetropsia

The  Alice in Wonderland syndrome also known as Todd’s syndrome named after the Psychiatrist John Todd who named this syndrome is a neurological condition that causes perceptual disorientation and disturbances.

It is a rare condition which can lead to episodes of distorted perception which are temporary and makes people feel that they are smaller or larger than they are or feel like something is further or nearer than they actually are. 

In the story of Alice in wonderland, this particular condition is highlighted when she goes through changes after ingesting foods and liquids where she changes in size, and in effect so does her surroundings.

While one might think that this condition is a result of hallucinations, it is caused by a disorder in the brain and it can affect one’s sensory systems related to vision, touch, and hearing and one might even experience distortions related to time.

The symptoms of Alice in wonderland syndrome are different for each individuals however, common symptoms include:

  • Migraine were some researchers and doctors believe Todd’s syndrome is actually an indication of a migraine- an aura. 
  • Micropsia or size distortion where one feels the sensation that your body or objects around you are growing smaller or Micropsia where one feels that their body or objects around them are growing larger are also common. 
  • Perceptual distortion where they feel like something is further or nearer than they actually are is also very common. 
  •  Individuals also experience distortions related to other sensory systems related to vision, touch, and hearing and one might even experience distortions related to time.
  • They might also feel like they are losing control of coordination and that they are not controlling their bodies making one feel uncoordinated.

It is not clearly understood what causes this syndrome and there needs to be more studies and research done to better understand it. 

As of present, experts believe that this syndrome is caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain caused by abnormal blood flow in the brain structures related to perception.

It is also believed that this syndrome is also linked to infections and migraines where infections is considered the leading cause in children and migraine to be the leading cause in adults. 

As of present day, there are no treatments available for Alice in wonderland syndrome and the best thing one can do is wait for the episode to pass. 

Depersonalisation

Depersonalization is a symptom that is observed in many psychiatric disorders and it is also formally known as depersonalization-derealization disorder (DDD).

Depersonalisation as a symptom impacts individuals in a way that makes them feel as if they are not real. Individuals feel distanced or disconnected from themselves and their person. 

Individuals with this condition often feel like that for a long time and impacts their ability to carry out their daily activities and responsibilities as it makes them feel disconnected from their own thoughts, feelings, and their body.

In Alice in Wonderland, Alice often asks “Let me think: was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I’m not the same, the next question is ‘who in the world am I?’ ”

She tends to go about feeling detached from herself and seems to feel “different” and “not the same” as who she feels and knows herself as. These little monologues in the story illustrate something similar to depersonalization. 

Symptoms of depersonalisation include:

  • feeling like you’re outside your body
  • feeling detached from yourself
  • Emotional Numbness
  • feeling as if you have no control
  • Feeling like you are not yourself in your body

When it comes to what causes this particular disorder or condition, it is not clear however experts believe it to be related to stress and trauma. They believe that this condition serves a protective purpose during traumatic experiences of violence and abuse, often during young childhood. 

It is also believed to be a result of substance use, issues related to the nervous system, seizure disorder, as well as other personality and mental health conditions such as schizophrenia. 

When it comes to treating this disorder, the main treatment includes a combination of therapy, medication,  and lifestyle coping. 

Prosopagnosia

Another illness that is mentioned in Alice in Wonderland is a cognitive disorder known as Prosopagnosia, also known as face blindness.

This particular disorder or illness is mentioned by Humpty Dumpty in response to alice’s farewell,

“I wouldn’t know you again if we did meet,” Humpty Dumpty replied in a discontented tone. “Your face is the same as everybody else has – the two eyes, so-” (marking their places in the air with his thumb) “nose in the middle, mouth under. It’s always the same. Now if you had two eyes on the same side of the nose, for instance – or the mouth at the top – that would be some help.”

Prosopagnosia is marked by difficulties in recognising facial cues and the inability to identify people or differentiate people’s faces as well as their own face. 

This particular illness appears to be rare but recent studies have estimated that about 2 percent of the population has been affected that that there are two types:

Congenital Prosopagnosia where the individual is born with this disorder- born without the ability to recognise faces. Individuals with this type do not realise that they have this condition until later on. 

Acquired Prosopagnosia where individuals acquire this illness after brain damage from a head injury, stroke, or neurodegenerative diseases. 

People with this illness show the following symptoms:

  • Inability to recognize or discriminate between faces.
  • Difficulty maintaining relationships and forming relationships as a result. 
  • Inability to recognise own face in severe cases
  • Social anxiety and depression as a result of their illness
  • They might be observed to be socially awkward and unable to pick up social cues
  • Tend to be drawn to a specific person because they are able to recognise them due to a particular characteristic.
  • They end to be aloof when approached without context
  • They have difficulty following TV show or movie plots as well as making friends. 
  • They can either be clingy or withdrawn in public
  • They also appear very shy or socially awkward. 

Factors that cause Prosopagnosia include:

  • Brain structure abnormalities especially in the area that involves memory and perception
  • Stroke or injury to brain 
  • Neurodegenerative diseases
  • Genetics

There are no cures or treatments for prosopagnosia as of present however, individuals with this condition can learn how to manage and live life with the help of support from their loved ones as well as support from a professional who can help them adapt in terms of social situations and relationships.

Conclusion

In this blog we have discussed the various mental illnesses and disorders that were hinted at or illustrated in the story of “Alice in wonderland” by Lewis Carroll. 

What mental disorders do Disney characters represent?

The various mental disorders that some disney characters are speculated to represent include:

  • Ariel from The Little Mermaid- Hoarding disorder
  • Peter Pan- Peter Pan Syndrome 
  • Belle from The Beauty and The Beast- Stockholm Syndrome.
  • The Queen from Snow White, and the Witch from Rapunzel- Narcissistic personality disorder

Is Alice and Wonderland about drugs?

Many individuals believe that the book Alice in wonderland by Lewis Carroll is about drug use because of the many references that include drinking potions, eating mushrooms and hallucinating.

Why do the Mad Hatter’s eyes change colour?

It is theorised that the change of eye colour in the mad hatter is due to mercury poisoning from the mercury that was used by hat makers early on. 

What causes Todd’s Syndrome?

It is not clearly understood what causes this syndrome and there needs to be more studies and research done to better understand it. 

As of present, experts believe that this syndrome is caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain caused by abnormal blood flow in the brain structures related to perception.

It is also believed that this syndrome is also linked to infections and migraines where infections is considered the leading cause in children and migraine to be the leading cause in adults. 

What are the symptoms of depersonalisation?

Symptoms of depersonalisation include:

  • feeling like you’re outside your body
  • feeling detached from yourself
  • Emotional Numbness
  • feeling as if you have no control
  • Feeling like you are not yourself in your body

What are the symptoms of derealisation?

The symptoms of derealisation include:

  • Surroundings appear distorted, artificial, and two dimensional. 
  • Feeling as if one is separated by a glass wall from other things
  • Heightened awareness of surroundings
  • Surroundings being too blurry or too clear
  • Distortions of time
  • Recent events feeling like distant past
  • Distortions related to distance of objects
  • Feeling like the world is not real
  • Feeling like people and other things around you are not real

What can trigger derealization?

When it comes to what causes this particular disorder or condition, it is not clear however experts believe it to be related to stress and trauma. They believe that this condition serves a protective purpose during traumatic experiences of violence and abuse, often during young childhood. 

References

The Neurological Disorders in Alice in Wonderland. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved on 11th Feb 2022.  from https://neurosciencenews.com/alice-wonderland-neurology-8307/

Holland.K. What Is Alice in Wonderland Syndrome? (AWS) Healthline. Retrieved on 9th February 2022. https://www.healthline.com/health/alice-in-wonderland-syndrome#symptoms

Gotter.A. Face Blindness (Prosopagnosia). Healthline. 11th February 2022. https://www.healthline.com/health/face-blindness

Kugler.m.Prosopagnosia Causes and Treatment. Verywellhealth. Retrieved on 11th February 2022. https://www.verywellhealth.com/prosopagnosia-2860990

Raypole.C. Understanding Depersonalization and Derealization Disorder. Healthline. Retrieved on 11th Feb 2022https://www.healthline.com/health/depersonalization-disorder

Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder. Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved on 11 feb 2022. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9791-depersonalizationderealization-disorder

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