Exploring the Rabbit Hole: Dr. John Todd and the Discovery of Alice in Wonderland Syndrome

Imagine experiencing a world where objects around you suddenly change in size, shapes become distorted, and your perception of time twists unexpectedly. This is not a scene from a fantasy novel but the reality for individuals suffering from Alice in Wonderland Syndrome (AIWS). Named after Lewis Carroll’s famous novel due to its peculiar perceptual distortions, AIWS is a fascinating neurological condition that alters how one perceives their environment. This article delves into the origins of AIWS, first described by British psychiatrist Dr John Todd in 1955, exploring his contributions and the ongoing impact of his work.

Historical Background

Before AIWS received its whimsical name, symptoms akin to those experienced by Alice in her adventures were occasionally noted but seldom studied systematically. Reports of similar perceptual abnormalities can be traced back to early 20th-century medical literature, although they were not recognized as part of a distinct syndrome. In this context, Dr. John Todd began his pioneering work intrigued by these symptoms’ peculiar yet specific nature.

Dr John Todd and AIWS

Dr. John Todd (1914-1987) was a British psychiatrist known for his keen interest in the intersections of culture, literature, and medicine. Todd’s encounter with patients exhibiting unusual perceptual distortions—where objects appeared larger (macropsia) or smaller (micropsia) than they were—led him to recognize a pattern. Drawing a parallel between these symptoms and the fantastical experiences of Alice, Todd coined the term “Alice in Wonderland Syndrome” in 1955. His defining work not only named the syndrome but also detailed various symptoms, such as altered body image, time perception, and visual hallucinations, which he meticulously categorized and related to Carroll’s narrative.

Impact of Dr. Todd’s Work

Dr. Todd’s classification of AIWS brought much-needed attention to a previously underrecognized condition. His work encouraged further research, allowing medical professionals to understand better and diagnose these perceptual disturbances. Notably, his research also highlighted potential links between AIWS and other neurological conditions, such as migraines and epilepsy, offering new avenues for exploring neurological disorders.

Current Understanding and Treatment

Today, AIWS remains a complex and somewhat mysterious condition, primarily associated with migraine headaches but also observed in epilepsy, infectious mononucleosis, and other conditions. Treatment generally focuses on addressing the underlying cause rather than the syndrome itself and may include medications used to prevent migraines or control seizures. Recent neuroimaging and clinical neurology advances have provided deeper insights into the brain regions involved in AIWS, helping clinicians better understand and manage this bewildering syndrome.


From Dr John Todd’s initial description to modern-day clinical studies, Alice in Wonderland Syndrome continues to captivate and challenge medical professionals. Todd’s insightful linkage between literary description and clinical symptoms not only named the syndrome but also enriched our understanding of human perception. As research progresses, the hope is to uncover further details about this curious condition, continuing the work started by Dr. Todd over six decades ago. AIWS is a remarkable example of how literature can inspire medical discovery, reminding us of the enduring connections between art and science.