Size Matters: Living in a Lewis Carroll 'Wonderland'

Scientists examine a medical mystery that makes the world grow and shrink.

ByABC News
September 10, 2007, 1:03 PM

Sept. 18, 2007— -- In the blink of an eye, Katie O'Brien's view of the world can change. In seconds, the 19-year-old can feel as though she's living in a world that has shrunk to the proportions of a doll house. Other times everyday objects seem strangely large.

"Right when I wake up, that's when I'll start to see things differently," Katie said. "I was looking at the couch once and it looked like the couch just was growing. It was really weird. It was really horrible."

Katie said that she was more confused than frightened by the experience as a child. "I don't know if I was necessarily like, really scared. It was just something that didn't make sense. Something I didn't understand," she said.

Watch the story on "Primetime Medical Mysteries" Wednesday, Sept.19 at 10 p.m. EDT

Katie's mother, Denise O'Brien, can relate, because she'd had some of the same bizarre experiences when she was a child.

"I just remember feeling really tiny and everything got really big," she said. "And then, it reverses. I mean, you know it hasn't happened, but, it just it's a very odd sensation."

Denise O'Brien was in her 20s before she had any explanation. She and her daughter share a rare condition called Alice in Wonderland syndrome, named, of course, after Lewis Carroll's famous childhood fairy tale. Just think of the strange illusions experienced by Alice in the book. (CLICK HERE for more information about Alice in Wonderland syndrome).

In "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," Alice describes growing so large that she can no longer see her feet: "Now I'm opening out like the largest telescope that ever was. Goodbye, feet." The Mayo Clinic's Dr. David Dotick said that experience is "rather typical of the patients who describe this sort of distortion of body image."

Dotick is an expert in migraines and their accompanying auras -- those strange alterations in perception or physical sensations that can erupt just before a migraine strikes. Alice in Wonderland syndrome is connected to those devastating headaches that affect 28 million Americans.