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Death Amnesia
McCoy: You really have gone where no man's gone before. Can't you tell me what it felt like?
Spock: It would be impossible to discuss the subject without a common frame of reference.
McCoy: You're joking!
Spock: A joke... is a story with a humorous climax.
McCoy: You mean I have to die to discuss your insights on death?

Any case where a character who comes Back from the Dead remembers nothing about the afterlife. Usually done to preserve ambiguity about what the universe's afterlife is actually like, but sometimes we actually see the character in the afterlife before they come back with no memory of it. Fridge Brilliance dictates that this makes sense. Even if the soul exists, there's no reason for memory brain cells to record anything if the Ghost in the Machine is elsewhere while experiencing things; it would be less explainable if they did remember note  In some cases, it turns out they don't remember because there was nothing there, or there wasn't one at all.

Compare Ghost Amnesia. Contrast Ghost Memory.

As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Comics 
  • When Eric comes back in The Crow, he remembers very little of his former life except for Shelly, the names and faces of the people who murdered the two of them and an insatiable drive for revenge. The movie version wasn't able to portray this aspect of the story as well because Brandon Lee's accidental death occurred before some of the expository scenes were to be filmed.
  • Green Arrow's return to life in the Quiver arc was marked not only by him not remembering his death, but he also didn't remember several years of life before his death.
    • In this case, it's because a version of Green Arrow was revived from several years before his death. At the end of the arc, the version who actually died takes over the body.

    Film 
  • Played with in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, as seen above. Spock seems willing to explain what it was like to die and be resurrected to Dr. McCoy, it's just that he can't. Apparently only two people who have died can discuss being dead.note  He's also unwilling to make metaphors that aren't precise.
    • It didn't take long for that to become a "Funny Aneurysm" Moment, given that DeForest Kelley was the first of the Enterprise's main bridge cast to pass on.
  • In Dragonball Evolution, Master Roshi says after being resurrected by Shen Long that he was "in a wonderful place that he doesn't remember." He then proceeds to describe what happened there, in detail. This is the least of the movie's problems.
  • In the Casper feature film, Casper is asked what it was like to die. He answers "like being born... only backwards". Gee, that's helpful.
  • One of the mooks in The 6th Day , after being killed and then cloned (his clone having inherited the memories of his original self), says that he didn't have any sort of post-death experience. He didn't consider that his original self's brain would have been unable to form memories while he was dead, which raises questions about the soul and whether or not clones have one. The anti-cloning religious zealots in the film think not.
    • What doesn't make sense is that the method used to transfer memories from originals to clones is well established in universe; it's basically taking a photograph of the brain that is later downloaded into the clone. Not only would it be completely expected for him to not remember his post death experience, he shouldn't remember his death, or (at the very least) the several hours leading up to his death.
      • Which doesn't explain why the cloned Mooks remember their death exactly and are even suffering the "after-effects", such as a guy whose neck was snapped constantly rubbing his neck as if it's stiff.
      • Information was posthumously taken from their eye retina. Strange, a lot of viewers didn't pay attention...
  • Played with in the movie Chances Are, when the main character jumps the reincarnation line and doesn't get the "forget-your-life" shot. Twenty years later, he keeps having deja vu of things in his now-girlfriend (daughter of his former self)'s house. Later, when recovering in a hospital, the angel who was supposed to give him the shot manages to slip it to him and he no longer has the deja vu feelings.
    • By the way, falling in love with your (former body's) daughter, ew!

    Literature 
  • In Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson, people who die a particularly heroic death are sometimes sent back to the living with a purpose. Only, they don't remember the afterlife, they don't remember the purpose, and for an extra twist they don't remember their previous life or death either.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Supernatural: Variation - Dean wakes up from a coma with no memory of his Near Death Clairvoyance sequence. Playing the trope straight, Sam remembers nothing about the afterlife when Dean brings him Back from the Dead, and Dean remembers nothing after he's yanked out of Hell by Castiel. But it's also indicated that he has brief flashes of memory to what hell was like.
    • In that universe it's made clear that Hell exists, but it seems as though most people who die either stick around as ghosts for a while or "pass on" to some unspecified other afterlife. Maybe the only people who end up in Hell are the ones who made a Deal with the Devil.
    • Later revealed that Dean remembered every moment of it and had been faking the amnesia, so a subversion.
    • It's insinuated that he only remembers because Castiel pulled him out; demons apparently add Death Amnesia as part of the resurrection deal.
  • Torchwood has most of those brought back by the resurrection glove unable to remember anything, especially since they are panicking and only have 20 more seconds to live. In the end, it turns out from the one character that can remember it that there is no afterlife except for total darkness and ominous footprints, and that's why the others couldn't remember it.
    • This is later knocked into question when Owen is rendered into an undead state, and suggests that maybe mankind isn't meant to remember what comes after life.
  • Pushing Daisies: The last thing anyone resurrected by Ned remembers is the way they died.
  • The Sopranos: Tony's coma dream flows steadily out of his memory, with the exception of the beckoning light.
  • Buffy died in the season 1 and season 5 finales. The first time, when she was briefly clinically dead, she appeared not to remember anything from that short time. The second time, after having been dead for several months, she first confessed to Spike that she believed she had been in Heaven or something resembling it, then, in "Once More with Feeling", told the rest of the gang while under the control of that episode's phlebotinum.
    • When she is drawing what she remembers, she shows a white light in a black area. While this seems like a cliche, she is trying to describe it using her limited human senses.
  • Darla, from Angel, claims to remember nothing between her death as a vampire and resurrection as a human, even though various hells clearly exist within the series, most likely because she lacks a soul. Her later ghostly appearance to Connor may suggest some more hopeful alternative, however.
  • John Locke from LOST claims to remember nothing after his death. Subverted by the fact that it's not really him.
  • Played perfectly straight by Lexx, which doesn't hold back from showing what its afterlife is like.
  • Stargate SG-1: Happens to Daniel Jackson when he comes Back from the Dead - he can't remember what it's like to be ascended. Initially he can't remember details of his life before ascension either, but gets those back.
    • This is explicitly because the other Ascended wiped his memory, though: everyone else who gets bumped back to mortal gets to keep all their handy-dandy Infinite Cosmic Knowledge.
    • Until it overloads their puny human brain, of course.
    • He does have occasional flashbacks, such as remembering that Teal'c son and mentor are trapped on a Goa'uld penal colony. He had to perform a Kelno'reem (Jaffa meditation ritual) to remember the details, though.
  • In Star Trek: The Next Generation, when the Klingon mythological hero Kahless returns, Worf asks him about the afterlife, and Kahless claims he is unable to remember, since he is a traveller between worlds and is only able to retain knowledge of the world he currently inhabits. It turns out that he's actually a clone (he probably still thought the explanation was what he'd said, since he wasn't aware he was a clone at that point).
  • On Star Trek: Voyager, Neelix once had an existential crisis over this. His people hold that there exists a wonderful afterlife where he would be reunited with his family... but the fact that he remembers nothing after dying temporarily leads him to question his faith and reason for existence.
  • In a sort of "backwards" pre-death use of the trope, in FlashForward (2009) many individuals who do not experience a flash forward during the blackout believe this to be an indication that they will die within the next six months.
  • The creators of John Doe claim that this is the reason why the titular character can't remember anything about his life before being found by fishermen. This was supposed to have been The Reveal, but the show was cancelled before it happened. John was part of an experiment to kill a person and bring him back in order to get all the knowledge of humankind that one is supposed to receive in the afterlife. The experiment worked but had side-effects, such as the amnesia and colorblindness (Word of God is that the latter is due to all that knowledge overloading the visual centers of John's brain).
  • In Fringe, William Bell's consciousness is temporarily recovered using a "soul magnet." None of the other characters bother to ask him what death was like, perhaps due to them assuming this trope. Or maybe not.

    Mythology and Folklore 
  • In Classical Greek Mythology, the dead were made to drink from the River of Lethe, which caused forgetfulness, before they could be reincarnated, making this Older Than Feudalism.
  • In Chinese Mythology, souls reincarnate, but before they enter their next body they have to drink some kind of tea (served by a fugly old woman) that makes them forget their previous life. This memory/memories can be recovered through aid from some powerful beings (or by Enlightening yourself), as happened in Journey to the West.
  • Mormons believe that prior to being born on earth, our memories of the "premortal existence" is forgotten. Other spiritual traditions such as the aforementioned Chinese spiritualism also believe in similar traditions.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Characters in Dungeons & Dragons generally don't remember the afterlife after being raised from the dead, which is generally blamed on the "trauma of the experience". In most settings, it's possible to visit the places where dead souls go, but they generally remember even less about their lives than the undead.
    • The Planescape setting and various other materials like Planar Handbook or Manual of the Planes add a pseudo-science explanation for the above: when you die your soul passes through the Astral and leaves a "memory core" behind. When you're called back, your soul passes back through the astral and grabs its core again, which overwrites any memories formed in the afterlife. Once in a while, though, you might grab the wrong set of memories...
  • In Kult, this is explicitly caused by the machination of the Demiurge to make sure humans can't reach their true potential in the cycle of reincarnation. Once every other while though, some souls escape the mechanism, and thus an Enfante Terrible who remember the horrors of The City That Is Everywhere is born.

    Video Games 
  • In a RuneScape quest, a cave goblin is killed and later revived with her memories of death missing. Whether her memory of it was erased or there is not an afterlife to remember is commented on but not explained. Of course, none of this cosmological ambiguity applies to player characters, who are immediately restored to life by the gods after payment in the form of wrist slaps.
    • Plus the fact that there are ghosts crawling all over Runescape and you occasionally help them pass on, destroys the ambiguity. Not that Zanik had seen any of them by that point.
  • This is why reincarnies are so often willing to sin again in Reincarnation - when they jump through a reincarny portal, all memories of Hell are erased.
  • Averted in Warcraft, Sylvanas remembers paradise fondly and being ripped away from it is part of what made her so twisted and bitter as a banshee, and when she dies again in a short story, she goes to a dark hell where she gets tortured (it's not made clear if it's because she's an undead or if it's because she was becoming what Arthas was), and coming back from that makes her much more unhinged.

    Webcomics 
  • Subverted in The Adventures of Dr. McNinja. This is supposed to happen, but Ben Franklin came back from the dead once before he remembers it the second time. But the part of the afterlife he got to (purgatory) isn't interesting enough to bother remembering anyway, and most people there don't even realize they're dead unless it's explained to them.
  • The Order of the Stick probably adheres to this trope, viz. Roy's father having died six times and not done anything about his afterlife accommodations, but that may have as much to do with his own character than anything else.
    • Now that Roy has been properly resurrected, it's been confirmed that it's indeed this trope. All Roy apparently remembers of Celestia is a happy, wonderful blur. However, he has perfect recollection of his time spent as a ghost on the mortal planes, as well as his time on the cloud (the Celestial "waiting room"), and later mentions his mom, who he only met in Celestia.
  • It's Walky!: Tony remembers no afterlife after being resurrected 2 years after his death, but an afterlife is shown towards the end of the series.
  • Whenever Oasis comes Back from the Dead in Sluggy Freelance, her memory is always fuzzy concerning the exact moment of her death and anything that happened between then and her resurrection. Though at one point she freaks both herself and her killer out by remembering something that happened while she was a corpse lying on the floor.

    Web Original 
  • In Red vs. Blue Church promises Sarge that he won't suffer this... if he gives Church 5 bucks.
  • In The Spoony Experiment when Spoony and his clone were talking about what the Original Spoony went through after his death. He said that it's "all pantheistic or some shit", where you become part of the earth, the trees and all things living. It was kind of "gay" to him. The living Spoony replies, "YES! I'm not going to hell for jerking off!" A few videos later, though, it turns out that the Farplane exists in this universe and that it has a hellish level to it from which Black Lantern Spoony summons Tidus.

     Real Life 
  • This is actually rather easily averted by people who are revived from being medically and legally dead and then revived in what is known as a Near Death Experience note . Said people sometimes claim they felt incredible bliss and saw paradise in the time they were dead, and wind up depressed that they have to go about living their lives. Whether or not they actually went to the afterlife or if it was just their failing brain functions is best discussed elsewhere for obvious reasons.
  • The AWARE study was set up by Dr. Sam Parnia to objectively study Near-Death Experiences and when they occur. According to the preliminary results, it seems that people can indeed have such an experience at a time when their brains have been flatlined. Furthermore, a small percentage of experiencers are able to perfectly recall visual and auditory events that occurred during their resuscitation rather than during the moments when they were "waking up". While the implications are massive, again, they're best discussed elsewhere.


Well, now Kirk gets the joke. Am I right? *Gets killed by Trekkies*
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