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An Astral Projection, Not a Ghost
A character who looks, feels, and talks like a ghost turns out to be a living person's out-of-body experience. Common variations include:

  • The "ghost's" body "merely" lies in a Convenient Coma, but they don't know that and fervently believe themselves to be actually dead (especially if they Never Found the Body). A soul-body reunion in the end can help avoid what would otherwise become a Downer Ending.
  • A Haunted House turns out to be the one a character always sees in their dreams... because they are the one haunting it.

A Sub-Trope of The Reveal and an Inverted Trope of sorts to Dead All Along. As this is a revelatory trope, spoilers will be found ahead.

Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • In Kara no Kyoukai, the ghostly antagonist of the first chapter/movie turns out to be an out-of-body experience of a bedridden, blind girl named Fujou Kirie.
  • In Natsuneko's Blue Line, the ghost of Yuria's "dead" little sister Yui turns out to be her out-of-body experience while her body lies in coma in the nearby hospital.
  • Happens to Ash Ketchum and Pikachu in the Pokémon episode "The Tower of Terror" (which infamously spent a few years off the airwaves due to its title alone) after getting struck by a falling chandelier. As the three Ghost Pokemon show them what it's like to be ghosts, Ash befriends Haunter and, after being reunited with his body, asks him to help him against Sabrina back at Saffron City.
  • A girl in Seirei no Moribito ends up this way after drinking wine with a magical flower in it.
  • In the midst of all the actual ghosts in Psychic Detective Yakumo, one apparent ghost turns out to be the projected spirit of a terminally ill but still-living girl, whose anxiety about her impending death causes her to project her spirit to other people at night while she's sleeping.
  • Psycho Busters: The hero initially mistakes the astral projection of one of his soon to be allies for a ghost. A sexy naked ghost.
  • A minor character in The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service uses her astral form to impersonate a ghost to make the inhabitants of an apartment think it's haunted.
  • Koichi in Digimon Frontier is stated by Crusadermon to only be a ghost. Since the Digital World runs on Narnia Time, his body back in the human world hasn't died yet.

    Comics 
  • Given how often Doctor Strange uses Astral Projection, this sort of thing is inevitable. As a master of the art, he never mistakes himself for deceased, though others (even the ones in the know) will comment on his 'creepy ghost.'

    Film 
  • In Just Like Heaven, it turns out that Elizabeth (Lauren in the book) is actually in a coma, and the protagonists have to get her 'ghost' back into her body before the hospital takes her off life support.
  • Ghost Dad involves Bill Cosby's character, apparently a ghost, actually being in a coma at the end. His daughter also becomes a ghost after being knocked unconscious, albeit briefly. The ability is said to be genetic.
  • The upcoming film If I Stay features this as part of the premise. The main character is a gifted young cellist who is being forced to choose between studying at Julliard and staying home to foster a relationship with her rock guitarist boyfriend. Then she and her family is involved in a bad car crash, and the girl becomes an astral projection unwillingly while her body lies in a coma. Nobody can see or hear her, but she can overhear conversations between other people, and her choice becomes whether or not she will fight to continue living, or allow herself to die.

    Literature 
  • The Dresden Files
    • Specifically in Ghost Story, Harry Dresden himself believes he is a ghost allowed to return to help his friends; turns out he is having an OBE while Queen Mab and Demonreach heal his body.
    • In a previous novel, he used a Flatline Plotline loophole to create a temporary ghost of himself as an ally.
  • André Maurois' short story "The House". A woman repeatedly dreams of a house. One day she finds the house she's been dreaming of but the people who live there are frightened of her. When she dreamed of the house she appeared there as a ghost. The story was made into a segment of the Night Gallery show.
  • This is the plot of James Herbert's Nobody True... at first. As soon as we get to know the main character properly it becomes an inverted example; he comes back from one of his out-of-body experiences to discover that someone has murdered him in his bed while he was otherwise occupied, and spends the rest of the book trying to figure out who did it and why.
  • Poledra in The Belgariad appears occasionally as a ghost to aid the main characters, having died in childbirth some three thousand years previously. At the end of the Malloreon, she reveals she never really died at all, but faked it in order to carry out a vague plan to help uphold The Prophecy.
  • The ghost in The Time of the Ghost by Diana Wynne Jones turns out to be one of these.
  • For part of Sean Williams's Changeling trilogy, the protagonist is assisted by the ghost of a friend who he thinks he saw die; later, he learns that she survived, but has been in a coma ever since, and is able to restore her.
  • Neal Shusterman's Skinjacker Trilogy (Everlost, Everwild, and Everfound) has this as a plot point.
  • The protagonist of Strong Spirits fears he's trapped as a ghost when he returns from an astral foray and can't find his body. Luckily, his friend stops the authorities from autopsying the "corpse" long enough for him to track it down.

    Live Action TV 
  • Soap ended with many plot threads hanging, including Jessica about to be shot by a firing squad in Central America. Next season, she shows up on spinoff Benson as a ghost which only Benson can see. But then she finds out she's not really dead, she's just in a coma in a Central American hospital.
  • In the Doctor Who serial "Day of the Daleks", the ghosts the Doctor is asked to investigate turn out to be projections of time travellers from the future.
    • In "Army of Ghosts," the ghosts appearing all over the world are actually an army of Cybermen trying to come to Earth from their home dimension.
  • In a sketch on The Benny Hill Show Benny plays a man who literally dreams of going out partying at night, getting away from his harridan of a wife. Then one day he's out in the daytime he happens by the very same place he goes in his dreams. Amazed, he knocks on the door. A bunch of women answer.
    Lead woman: You can't come in here!
    Benny: Why not?
    Woman: This place is haunted!
    Benny: dismissive Who by?
    Woman: YOU!
  • One of the hauntings dealt with in Supernatural some time in season three turns out to not be a spirit, but the projection of a girl in a coma.
  • At least one episode of Ghost Whisperer featured this; a "ghost" turns out to be a hiker who was in a coma and occasionally flatlining, during which times he was able to appear to Melinda. Eventually he prevents the doctors from reviving him so that he could become a full ghost in order to help Melinda save his brother.
  • In The 4400 episode "Audrey Parker's Come and Gone", the title character suffers from a variation of this. Her 4400 ability is to astral project, but while she's on one of her projections, she's murdered. Her disembodied self is able to persist for a little while outside of her body, allowing her to act as a "ghost" who communicates through machines.
  • An elderly woman on Fringe believes that she's seeing the ghost of her dead husband in her apartment. What she's really seeing is her husband's double in another universe. As a widower, he's having much the same experience.

    Mythology 
  • In Japanese folklore, a person with intense feelings of love or hatred towards another could succumb to a spiritual affliction known as iki-ryou, the dreaded "ghost of the living", where their soul would leave their body and haunt the person he/she loves or hates, (un)willingly inflicting some curse in the process. (The soulless body would weaken and eventually die if left in this condition too long.)

    Urban Legend 
  • In a famous Urban Legend, a woman has a recurring dream where she is wandering around a strange house. One day while she is driving she sees that house with a for-sale sign out front. She goes in to look at and finds out that it is extremely underpriced. When she asks the realtor why, the realtor says the house is haunted, but she doesn't have to worry about that, because she is the one who is haunting it!

    Video Games 
  • In the second level of Ghost Hunter, there are some strange ghosts which the capture grenade does not work on. Later on you find out that they are astral projections of the local hillbillies.
  • In Geist, protagonist John Raimi spends most of the game as a ghost after his body and soul are separated at the start of the game. His empty body ends up being hijacked by a demon.

    Web Comics 
  • Tiffany in Eerie Cuties Chapter 6 was accidentally stabbed with a sword in the gut and became a "ghost", a little too freaked out to notice lack of visible bleeding. Later a vampire bite ("No sense letting a good meal go to waste!") snapped her back into her own body. Of course, this only means Tiff switched to mistaking herself for a vampire until she was told about the "astral projection sword" at the end of next chapter.

     Western Animation 
  • In Jackie Chan Adventures, when Jade activated the talisman that enables astral projection, she initially thought she was dead.

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