Lilliputian Hallucination

Lilliputian hallucinations, first described by the French psychiatrist Leroy in 1909, are a form of microscopic hallucination involving scenes of small people, objects or animals, which are seen in miniature.

Named after the inhabitants of Lilliput in Jonathan Swift’s 1727 novel Gulliver’s Travels Opens in new window, Lilliputian hallucinations occur during intoxication and in a variety of neurological and psychiatric disease.

In a typical case, brightly colored and clearly individual little people are seen to form parades or engage in complicated lifelike antics.

Hallucinations of conversations and choruses in Lilliputian voices as well as a sort of Lilliputian music are sometimes heard. The accompanying emotional state is usually characterized by joy and charm and only rarely by terror and fear.

Few reports exist of Lilliputian hallucinations in migraines. In the unique observation of a patient of John K. Mitchell’s, the image of a tiny dwarf gradually transformed into a giant gladiator, striking the patient on the head. This hallucination of giants has been called a Brobdingnagian hallucination, again referring to Gulliver’s Travels.

Siri Hustvedt describes her single experience of premigraine Lilliputian hallucinations:

I was lying in bed reading a book by Italo Svevo, and for some reason looked down, and there they were: a small pink man and his pink ox, perhaps six or seven inches high. They were perfectly made creatures, and except for their color, they looked very real. They didn’t speak to me, but they walked around, and I watched them with fascination and a kind of amiable tenderness. They stayed for some minutes and then disappeared. I have often wished they would return, but they never have. … It wasn’t until after my duo had vanished that I understood I had seen a miniature version of two legendary oversized characters from my childhood in Minnesota: Paul Bunyan and his blue ox, Babe. The giant man and his huge animal that I had read about in stories had shrunk dramatically and turned pink. It was then that I asked myself about the content of the hallucination. What did it mean that my aura took that form rather than something else? Are these visions purely nonsensical? What memory traces are activated during these experiences?

In two observations, migraine sufferers reported miniature hallucinations of inanimate objects rather than people or animals.

A patient of Mingazzini’s had “visions of small, indefinite, equal-sized objects,” and a patient of Schob’s once “saw around the lamp, for a quarter of an hour, a real dance of small, approximately fifteen-cm (six-inch) high figures, like children’s toys; they were in very rapid movement and disappeared immediately when the lamp was switched off.

Lilliputian hallucinations are commonly recognized as unreal. They may be viewed with interest or detachment, occasionally with anxiety or other affective tonality. Though generally visual, auditory and olfactory elements may be present. Hallucinated voices are said to have a Lilliputian tone, to be small and of diminished amplitude.

    Research data for this literature has been adapted from these following manuals:
  1. Oxford Handbook of Psychiatry By David Semple, Roger Smyth
  2. Crash Course Psychiatry - E-Book By Katie FM Marwick, Steven Birrell
  3. The Life of the Mind, By Jason W. Brown