Neurophilosophy


Alice_in_Wonderland_Syndrome.bmp

These pictures illustrate macrosomatognosia, the condition in which abnormal activity in the somatosensory regions of the brain causes one to perceive the body, or parts of it, to be abnormally large.

Both pictures are representations of partial macrosomatognosia, in which specific parts of the body are affected. They were drawn by artists who experience migraines, and were submitted as entries to the Migraine Art Competition.

The picture on the left shows the migraine sufferer lying on a bed, with elongated hand, arms and neck, and an enlarged head that appears to be floating up towards the ceiling. The artist provides a description of the sensation:

My head seemed very large and situated near the ceiling, looking down on a tiny body (my own) on the bed. The head was always connected with the body but somehow remote from it. It felt as if I was looking through a telescope the wrong way round.

On the right is an illustration of macrosomatognosia of both arms and hands, drawn by a school teacher who experienced a migraine during a class:

I would see that some of the pupils were laughing at me and I would realize that I was speaking complete rubbish. In addition to that, my arms and hands had dramatically increased in size. My hands, which I could see as normal size, holding an exercise-book, nevertheless felt huge and my arms nearly reached the floor. I kept looking to make sure they weren’t as I felt!

According to one study which involved an assessment of more than 500 entries to the Migraine Art Competition (referenced below), total body microsomatognosia is more prevalent than total body macrosomatognosia, but partial macrosomatognosia is more prevalent than partial microsomatognosia.

In the case of partial macrosomatognosia, the frequency with which different parts of the body are affected appears to be directly related to the amount of somatosensory cortical tissue devoted to that part of the body. Hence, the head and hands are the parts of the body most frequently described as being banormally large.

Both conditions are rare, even as symptoms of migraine aura. They can sometimes be experienced during hypnagogic hallucinations (which sometimes occur when one is falling asleep) and during intoxication with LSD.

Reference:

Podoll, K. & Robinson, D. (2000). Macrosomatognosia and microsomatognosia in migraine art. Acta Neurol. Scan. 101: 413-416.

Comments

  1. #1 Susannah
    October 17, 2007

    I used to get that, affecting my hands only, when I was a young teenager, in the years before my migraines started. It was associated with weird sound effects; it seemed to me that people were speaking in deep voices from far away. Other sounds were similarly deepened.

    After a few years, the symptoms faded away, to be replaced by the jagged light flashes and “fireflies” I now experience.

  2. #2 andy
    October 17, 2007

    I used to get it too. again as a teenager. I’d be lying in bed with the lights off, and I’d get the feeling that my hands were bigger than basketballs, with great fat fingers, and my mouth, lips and tongue were swelling, it would make me feel pretty nauseous, having this HUGE tongue inside my mouth. it also seemed to feel like the parts of my body were very far apart… I’d have to get up and switch the light on, otherwise I might have puked.

    It’s obviously related to a hypnogogic state, but in my case I think it was also something to do with sensory deprivation, as it would only really happen in complete darkness and silence.

    actually something similar happened a few days ago, going to sleep with my wife, arm wrapped around her, it felt for quite a while like my arm was really long, about 2 or 3 metres. got up, switched a light on, and everything was fine.

    I’ve never suffered from migraines, but I do get a lot of weird stuff when I’m half-asleep.

    ‘macrosomatognosia’ – cheers, I’ve got a name for it now. :)

  3. #3 Justin
    October 23, 2007

    I have gotten macrosomatognosia all my life — but only in my hands. When I was very young, it typically occured when I was feverish and/or having nightmares (often before falling asleep, but sometimes even occuring when I awoke from a bad nightmare).

    I presently have them every now and then (even though I haven’t had a fever and/or nightmare for years) and guess I can only hope I continue to be free of migraines despite having siblings and parents that get them (luckily, I pretty much never get even mild headaches).

    It is nice having a name for it now!

  4. #4 Emily
    April 3, 2009

    When I was younger, I used to lay in bed at night and when I would close my eyes, I could feel my hands getting bigger and bigger and my head getting smaller and smaller. I would have to open my eyes and put my hands to my face to reassure myself that I was “normal sized”. It still happens to me to this day, and I have done some research on Alice In Wonderland Syndrome and it’s nice to know that I’m not the only one who has experinced this. I have never suffered migranes, and hope I never do, but nonetheless the symptoms are annoying.

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