Amnesiac Resonance

Sometimes a character suffering amnesia engages in acts that do not make sense, or perhaps do not make full sense, without the knowledge of what he has forgotten. This can range from knowing skills that he learned then, to supporting his friends and opposing his enemies from that time, or even automatically addressing people by names.

This is not incompatible with Amnesiac Dissonance — such moments may horrify the character with the realization of change.

This is usually taken as a sign that the amnesia is fading, and often is one. (Oddly enough, acting like this is seldom a sign that you are faking it, even if you are not a point-of-view character.)

There is a certain amount of Truth in Television to it, particularly skills, since memory is not a unitary thing that can be turned on and off.


Anime & Manga
  • A lot of Kirika's drama in Noir derives from the fact that she is a perfect killing machine who murders people with practiced ease and doesn't feel bad about it, yet has no idea why she is so well trained and conditioned and feels that it's just wrong.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's, Bruno is a Gadgeteer Genius amnesiac with a strong desire to protect Yusei. He doesn't know why he's so skilled with techonology, or why he wants to the protect the guy he's apparently only known for a few days.

Comic Books
  • In Legion Of Superheroes, when the amnesiac Ultra Boy is taken up by Space Pirates, he switches sides in the fight, to defend their victims from them, and immediately feels that this is more natural to him.

Live-Action Film
  • The Long Kiss Goodnight has some examples of this, including the amnesiac heroine discovering an ability with knives that she believes means she was a chef but she's really a government assassin.
  • There's a scene in The Bourne Identity in which Jason Bourne instinctively fights but doesn't remember yet who he is or how he knows what he's doing. The movie uses this trope quite a bit, and he has a monologue at one point detailing all the things he knows — that he can run a full sprint for half an hour before he starts to shake, that the most likely place to find a weapon is in the cab of a truck outside, that one of the diner patrons carries himself in a way that suggests he knows how to handle himself — while being A. distraught that he can't remember why he knows these things, and B. worried about what kind of person he was to have learned these things.
  • In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Joel Barish and his ex-girlfriend Clementine manage to find each other again after getting their memories about their relationship wiped clean.
  • Exploited in the Korean film Lost and Found (or Sweet Lies). The protagonist is pretending to have amnesia and passes off any of her flubs as this. For instance, when her Love Interest shows her his room, she spouts "This is just like what my room looks like!". When he looks at her strangely, she quickly adds "I mean, what my room would look like if I were to make it."
  • Drew Barrymore's character in 50 First Dates is an amnesiac who only remembers her life until an accident she had. She wakes up every day thinking it's the day after the accident, when in reality it's been over two years. She can't seem to remember her boyfriend, but near the end of the movie, she makes paintings with "eggmen" (Adam Sandler's character was made fun of for his egg-shaped head).
  • In The Muppets Take Manhattan, an amnesic Kermit taps out a melody to a song he wrote.
  • In RoboCop (1987), Murphy has no memory of his life before his death and resurrection, but begins to piece together that he Was Once a Man by how others react to things he says or does unthinkingly.
  • Overboard has the amnesiac Joanna/Annie suddenly stark speaking French and knowing things obviously gained from world travel.
  • Played with extensively in Memento:
    • When Leonard recalls his insurance investigation of the anterograde amnesiac Sammy Jenkins, he notices that Sammy shows signs of recognition when Lenny greets him, and we are meant to wonder whether it's this trope at work or, as Leonard asserts, proof that he's pulling a scam. It turns out to be neither: after suffering brain damage himself Leonard realizes that Sammy was faking recognition, not the disability, so as to blend in and seem less helpless.
    • Inverted with Leonard, whose actions only make sense until The Reveal: that the man he's been tracking has been dead for years and Leonard has been rewriting his own history to create an elusive quest for his wife's killer and repeating it over and over again to give himself purpose in life.
  • X2: X-Men United:
    • On arriving at the Alkali Lake base, Logan finds himself retracing his steps, finding the very lab he received his adamantium skeleton from, flashing back to the events all the while.
    • Also, much earlier on in the film he remembers Stryker's name without any prompting from the man himself.
    • At the climax, Stryker deliberately invokes this, telling Wolverine he was an animal before the procedure that wiped his memories, and still is. Logan turns this back on him when he tries to ply Wolverine into taking him to safety.

  • In John C. Wright's The Golden Age, Daphne constructs a little world with a prince called "Shining" — a translation of her own husband's name, Phaethon. When she is in a competition, she lets the world run free, and the prince engages in a daring venture to break out of the world. This, it turns out, is a startling parallel to Phaethon's work on a spaceship, which everyone agreed to forget.
  • In Poul Anderson's "A World Called Maanerek", a man was abandoned on a world with his memory blanked, then recovered and restored to his previous memories. Even before he is restored, things come back to him, and afterwards, he turns on his old friends and loyalties to help the people of that world. A psychologist explains it by a mind not being so separated from the body after all.
  • In the Artemis Fowl series, the fairies mindwipe Artemis of all memories relating to fairykind at the end of the third book. In the fourth, as Artemis admires a painting, The Faerie Thief, he acknowledges that the fairy in the painting can't enter a human dwelling without permission (one of the laws fairies live by), then wonders how and why he knew that. Later, when an assassination attempt against him fails, he recognises the blue light from the incident as a Blue Rinse, a fairy superweapon similar to a bio-bomb.
  • Lightsong from Warbreaker, who is a "Returned" demigod, at one point realizes he has some detective skills he never learned, and concludes (correctly) that they must have been retained from his old life as a human. This gets him in trouble later, as he assumes that a former private eye would know his way around a fight, and then finds out the hard way that investigative accountants have no combat skills at all. He also learns that, among other things, he had no knowledge of pottery, could juggle and knew a lot of sailor jargon.
  • Vorkosigan Saga: While trying to identify an amnesiac Miles, a doctor has him assemble a number of guns.
  • * Early in Blood of Tyrants Royal Navy Captain Will Lawrence is aware that he has lost about eight years of memory due to a shipwreck that left him washed ashore in Japan; but it is only well into his cross-country escape towards Nagasaki that it hits him that not only has he seen several dragons wandering among the local humans without anything resembling the handlers thought needed to keep them from rampaging, but he was neither surprised nor concerned beyond practical 'how the bloody hell can I fight my way past or outdistance a hostile one' matters.

Live-Action TV
  • In the Monk episode "Mr. Monk Bumps His Head", Monk is knocked out at a truck stop, then wakes up on the back of a semi truck in a little Wyoming town. He is unaware of who he is, but is baffled when he experiences his old phobias. He then goes on to solve a murder in the town.
  • In the Pilot Episode of John Doe, there's a scene where the title character, who suffers from amnesia so thorough that it has erased even the memory of his own name, plays a song on a piano and notes that not only does he know how to play the song, but the song itself is familiar to him. He takes a couple of minutes to wonder where he might have heard it.
  • The Murdoch Mysteries episode "The Murdoch Identity", being a pastiche of The Bourne Identity, naturally plays with this: Murdoch feels like he has to solve the crime, and comments that writing his thoughts down on a blackboard feels natural.
  • In Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Conundrum" an alien invader uses a probe to wipe the memories of the crew and inserts himself as First Officer. His goal is to use the Enterprise's superior weapons to win a cold war between his race and their enemies. Things get tricky when parts of the character's traits, such as Picard questioning the extreme lengths their "orders" are making them go, to destroying an enemy that is about 100 years behind them in technology. Even Worf, who was eager for battle, questions the last.
  • In SeriesCastle the victim of the week suffers a trauma-induced amnesia because he is shot by the bad guy of the week and survives only because a book caught the bullet. Even with no memory, he provides help in identifying the bad guy because of a painting in his loft and him knowing something is wrong with it.

Newspaper Comics
  • In an Easy Amnesia story in The Phantom, the Phantom, being looked after by the Jungle Patrol under the name John X, not only proved to still be an excellent crimefighter, but he felt compelled to keep a journal, and moreover to write it secretly in the boiler room, lit by candles; a shadow of the Phantom Chronicles and their room in the Skull Cave.

Video Games
  • The Witcher. In the first game, Geralt begins the game afflicted with amnesia, but still competent in the witcher's unique schools of martial arts.
  • In Mega Man Zero, despite his amnesia, Zero can feel that Copy X is very different than the real X, after his fight.
  • In Knights of the Old Republic, the Player Character advances through Jedi training remarkably quickly; after The Reveal, it's clear (s)he was relearning old skills.

Western Animation
  • In the fourth season opener of Archer, "Fugue and Riffs", Archer has amnesia, and thinks his name is Bob and runs a burger shop. He's able to kill four KGB hitmen while unarmed, then, after being found by ISIS at a spa, he remembers what a Tec-9 is (and wonders how he knew that), and has several flashes of his memories. Dr. Krieger explains why a Tap on the Head with a frying pan Flintstones-style won't work and could cause him to lose his memories forever, but his memory comes back when Lana loses patience and does just that.
  • In Western Animation/Gargoyles while visiting Easter Island, Elisa comes across an alien who blasts her with a memory-erasing weapon. This makes her forget all about Goliath and others she is traveling with. As it turns out, the alien is a good soldier who has been a sentry on Earth for centuries. He presumes Goliath is part of an alien invasion and attacks. Elisa, despite not remembering Goliath, finds she trusts him still. This is enough to stop the Sentry, as he knows these feelings Elisa has are her true feelings, his weapon cannot destroy them.

Real Life
  • Clive Wearing. He has a memory of only a few seconds, but can subconsciously conduct a choir and guess what will happen in a movie he has forgotten he just saw.
  • Memory of how to perform tasks (procedural memory, aka muscle memory) is stored separately from memories of past events. Ever notice how amnesiacs can still walk and talk, despite those being learned skills? Amnesiacs will often retain skills they had before losing their memory, although they may not know that they have those skills.
  • Spend some time in an Alzheimer's ward, and you'll see this in action. Patients who can't remember how to talk might sing along with a favorite song, someone who doesn't recognize her visitors might still offer them chairs and ask if they want coffee, etc.