Discovering Your Own Dead Body

When a character turns out to be Dead All Along, they often only realize this upon finding their own corpse. Whether they're actually a ghost, have been cloned, time traveled to the future past the time of their death, gone to an alternate dimension or have since become a robot the discovery is shocking and traumatizing for a character who was unaware they had actually died. Almost always results in a Heroic B.S.O.D. from the character in question, and often overlaps with Tomato in the Mirror.

The state of the body can be anywhere between "can be mistaken for alive but sleeping" and "skeleton with the clothes still on" but are always recognizable as being their own. Often a body found in such a state is still exactly where the person died, to indicate they were never found. For extra pathos it may even be stuffed and mounted to indicate a severe lack of respect for the deceased.

Attending Your Own Funeral may overlap if The Reveal occurs at a character's own memorial service. A more benign version may involve a Psychopomp arriving to spirit off someone's soul and the recently deceased taking one final look at their discarded body. The more supernatural versions of Prematurely Marked Grave may also be related.

Naturally, as both a Death Trope and frequent Ending Trope the following examples contain unmarked spoilers.


Examples:

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     Anime and Manga  

  • Red Garden features the four main girls be taken to their own corpses laid out in coffins while it's explained that they died in the first episode and are now in artificial bodies, but can get their original bodies back if they do exactly as they are told.
  • In the fifth Kara no Kyoukai movie, Enjou Tomoe eventually discovers his own preserved brain in the basement of his apartment building. His response shows how badly this shakes him, and his artificial body starts breaking down soon after. Earlier he almost finds his actual corpse in his old apartment, revealing that his recurring nightmare of his mother stabbing him and then herself after killing her husband actually occurred, but Shiki prevents him from clearly seeing this.
  • In an episode of Galaxy Express 999, Tetsuro watches from afar as his enigmatic guide and companion Maetel weeps over a dead body under ice on Pluto. It is later more or less confirmed that it is Maetel's own original, pre-robotization body.
  • Happens in Brook's backstory in One Piece. His Devil Fruit ability is to revive back when he's dead (among other slew of underworld-themed abilities). So when he dies, his soul comes back... but he had to spend a year finding his body because it's trapped on a ship in the middle of a foggy sea. By the time he found it, it already became a skeleton. That's how he becomes a Dem Bones guy nowadays.
  • In episode 11 of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, Fate sees what appears to be her own body in a jar and finds out that it's actually Alicia, her mother Precia's original daughter whom she was cloned from. Worse, Precia considers Fate to be a failure (for among other things having a different dominant hand than Alicia) and willingly dies with the original Alicia's body even when Fate tries to save her.
  • Near the end of the third season of Hell Girl, Yuzuki runs back to her apartment and finds it in a dilapidated state, with the skeleton of a little girl lying on the floor. Turns out that she had died a long time ago, and her spirit had been living in an illusion ever since.

     Audio Play  

  • The Big Finish Doctor Who story "Cobwebs" has the Fifth Doctor and his companions arrive at a base on another planet where they find their own dead bodies, including their own clothing right down to a cut on the Doctor's coat. It turns out the bodies were not of the Doctor and his friends in the end.

     Comic Books  

  • Has happened a couple times to Jonah Hex, since his final fate is to have his body stuffed and mounted as part of an old west traveling show, so it's almost inevitable that when traveling to the future he'll run into it.
    • In the final issue of Hex (1987), after he has been transported from the Old West to a 21st century Post Apocalyptic Wasteland, finds his own dead body stuffed and mounted in the remains of a wild west show. This is considered a good thing, because it means that someday he'll be transported back to his home time. He sets a shot glass in front of his dead body and shares a drink with himself. And while he does eventually go back to his time, the body isn't actually his, but an impostor's.
    • Happens to him again in the New 52 relaunch of his series when he finds it in Metropolis, this time however it causes him to have a Heroic B.S.O.D..
  • Swamp Thing eventually finds the skeleton of Alec Holland, in the process discovering that he wasn't the real Alec and was just a sentient plant that had absorbed Alec's memories. Swampy was lead there by the ghost of Alec himself, and after retrieving the skeleton Alec's soul is able to move on to the afterlife.
  • In Deadman, Boston Brand is murdered during an acrobatics act. His ghost falls to the ground and thinks the other circus performers are telling a tasteless joke about covering his body, until he sees it for himself.
  • In issue #29 of The Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye, the mysterious coffin the Lost Light found floating in space last issue is revealed to contain the embalmed corpse of Rodimus — minus half his head — who is at present alive and well in his captaincy of the ship. Upon determining that the corpse belongs to his future self, he immediately attempts to cut his arm off with a chainsaw, reasoning that since the corpse still has both arms, his death won't come to pass if he's missing one. Fortunately for Rodimus, it turns out to be a case of Dead Alternate Counterpart.

     Fan Works  

  • In We Are All Pokémon Trainers, when Tagg visits the PMD-B timeline he comes across the skeleton of his multiversal counterpart, entombed for 600 years after he died of old age. He chooses not to attempt attaining his memories because he figures it might be too traumatic.
  • Variation in White Devil of the Moon. While exploring the ruins of the Moon Kingdom, Nanoha and the Sailor Senshi come across the bodies of their previous incarnations (all the bodies had been perfectly preserved due to the lack of oxygen on the Moon). Luna had specifically brought them their in hopes of triggering some of Nanoha's memories as princess Serenity.

     Film  

  • In both Topper and Topper Returns, freshly deceased ghosts (Cary Grant and Constance Bennett in the first one, Joan Blondell in the latter) discover they are dead by noticing their own corpses. Grant and Bennett are only mildly annoyed to find out that they died in a car accident. Blondell's character discovers that she was murdered, and the plot has her enlisting Cosmo Topper to find out who killed her.
  • Hellraiser: Hellseeker: The main character survives a fatal car crash in which his wife dies. The rest of the film is a Mind Screw, as he's constantly experiencing hallucinations and isn't able to tell what is real or not. The ending reveals that he's been in Hell all along after Pinhead shows him his own body.
  • Impostor: A variation on the trope where Dr. Olham becomes a fugitive after he's accused of being a bio-robot infiltration unit sent by a hostile alien race and set to explode when he comes in contact with the Earth's chanceller. His wife is then revealed to be the real impostor, but then it turns out that both he and his wife had been replicated when he discovers the real Olham's body.
  • A Mind Screw version in Mulholland Dr., where Rita and Betty find the body of Diane Selwyn, who is Betty in real life/a Dying Dream/an alternate reality/the future/what have you.

     Literature  

  • In the novel John Dies at the End, Dave eventually finds a body that looks just like his and assumes it's an alternate duplicate meant to Kill and Replace him. But after failing to find the distinguishing mark for the clones on the body's foot and instead finding it on himself he realizes that he killed the original Dave and took his place, but had no memory of this.
  • In the short story "The Thing in Auntie Alma's Pond" by author Bruce Coville, a girl runs away from home to her aunt's house and is terrified of the pond there. The girl later swims to the bottom of the pond and realizes she had actually drowned at the bottom of the pond when her leg got caught after finding her swollen, decayed body at the bottom.
  • In The Ka of Gifford Hillary, the eponymous character realizes he is seemingly dead when he gets to see his own body - from the outside. He is later on faced with the problem of re-animating his body and getting out of the coffin.
  • In the science fiction short novel Rogue Moon a special kind of transporter is used to make two copies of a person which are briefly telepathic; one copy is sent through an alien death trap while the other copy can see & hear what the other is seeing so they can learn the safe way through the maze. When we see the final run through the maze we are also shown hundreds of copies of the same man lying about having been killed in various ways.
  • In Ancillary Justice, the protagonist is an AI who controls a lot of individual bodies. Therefore, she gets to have the experience of finding her own dead body several times.
  • Played with in Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency: although the ghost who finds his own corpse already knew he was dead, he still faints upon finding it, because it falls out of a cupboard at him Peekaboo Corpse-style.
  • In the Legends trilogy of Dragonlance, Caramon and Tasselhoff end up traveling to a Bad Future where Caramon's twin Raistlin destroyed all of the other gods and the two only realize they are in the future of their own world rather than another when they discover the ruins of their hometown complete with the corpses of Caramon's wife Tika and Caramon himself.

     Live Action TV  

  • The Twilight Zone (1959) episode "Death Ship" had the crew of a starship finding a crashed ship with bodies looking just like their own, down to the ID cards. They speculate on what happened ranging from time travel to aliens playing tricks on them and the captain orders them to take off and land again and again to prove that they're not going to crash... And Rod Serling implies that they've become the Flying Dutchman of space.
  • Starbuck in Battlestar Galactica (2003) finds a crashed Viper with her own body inside it during the final season. What exactly the Starbuck we've been following actually is never gets made clear, but she's implied to be an Angel Unaware since the crash.
  • Doctor Who: In "The Space Museum" the Doctor and his companions land on a planet but they're Just One Second Out of Sync. While they're out of sync they wander around the museum and find their own stuffed bodies on display. When the timelines resync they go on the run from the authorities to make sure that they don't wind up dead.
  • What kickstarts the plot of Time's Arrow in Star Trek: The Next Generation is finding android Data's severed head in a cavern beneath San Francisco. When the crew attempts to comfort Data over this, he is instead delighted that he will have a "death" since it means he has a finite time to exist and won't see all of his friends live and die while he continues on forever. Also a notable aversion of Living Forever Is Awesome.

     Roleplay  

  • In We Are All Pokémon Trainers when Tagg visits the PMD-B timeline he comes across the skeleton of his multiverse counterpart, entombed for 600 years after he died of old age. He chooses not to attempt attaining his alternate's memories because he figures it might be too traumatic.

     Tabletop Games  

  • In the Dungeons & Dragons Curse of Strahd campaign, during the "Death House" module the party is tasked with going inside the haunted house by two children, Rose and Thorn, after being told that there's a monster in the house, and upon reaching a room in the attic find their skeletons, since their insane parents had locked them in there centuries ago and forgot about them. The children's ghosts then appear and attempt to possess the party if they try to leave, but the party can put their spirits to rest by placing them in the crypts that their parents already made for them in the house's basement.

     Video Games  

  • It happens frequently in some games allowing you to quickly reappear at a Respawn Point (particular in FPS like Team Fortress 2 and Halo) or in games allowing you to loot your own body (particular in Survival Sandbox such as Unturned) though in most cases your body just disappears after your death and only your items remain.
  • Serena strongly implies that the corpse in the armoire belongs to the narrator, explaining his initial reluctance to open the armoire and see its contents. At first he panics and believes he killed his wife, the title character (especially since the body is desiccated enough that an immediate identification isn't possible), but the end of the game suggests it was the other way around. The clock on the wall also stops when you find it.
  • In the fourth Fatal Frame game, Choushiro Kirishima sees the events that lead to his death prior to the game and looks down at his own body on the ground, where he woke up at the start of his story with no memory of how he got there.
  • In the beginning of episode two of BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea, Elizabeth finds her own dead body, revealing that her Rapture version was killed by the Big Daddy immediately after the battle at the end of episode one. Which is a major problem, since by returning to an alternate reality where she had died before, Elizabeth has lost all of her reality-warping and dimension-hopping powers.
  • In The Cat Lady, Susan Ashworth dies at the very start of the game, finding her own body three times in three different positions when she is in the land of the dead.
  • In Shrapnel, the player can die repeatedly and find the resulting corpses. This is because you're stuck in a Time Crash caused by the accidental destruction of a time machine. Those bodies are technically from deaths that occurred in alternate timelines.
  • Diablo III: During the "Finding the Forgotten" event, inside the House of Corpses, several corpses are scattered, and a frightened woman called Lady Arsonia asks player(s) to help find her precious pendant. After checking several corpses, she will find the pendant and recognize the bearer as herself. Furious and refusing to believe that she is dead, she will attack the players as a unique ghost. Killing her ends the event.
  • It happens frequently enough in Ghost Trick that one of the first things Sissel says to ghosts he runs into is, "You're the person lying on the ground there". This also applies to Sissel himself, who kicks off the game waking up in a junkyard to see his own corpse lying on the ground. It turns out, that wasn't his corpse. He does see his corpse not long after, but it's still moving around because of ghost powers.
  • In a variation, Yuyuko Saigyouji of Touhou is aware that she's dead and a ghost, but doesn't realize that the body under the demonic cherry tree that she seeks to resurrect is her own due to Ghost Amnesia until the end of her boss battle in Perfect Cherry Blossom. Furthermore, actually succeeding in resurrecting her body would not only be undoing all the good her death did after she was Driven to Suicide because of her powers to control the spirits of the dead, since her body was then used to seal said tree, but also destroy her ghost completely.
  • During the main quest of the Skyrim total conversion Enderal, one of your companions is startled to find your own dead body (along side the body of a companion who died during the prologue) in an ancient underground temple, though you both quickly come to the conclusion that it's an illusion sent by the High Ones to confuse and deceive you. It's not.
  • In Zero Time Dilemma, Sigma and Diana transport themselves to another timeline and find the bodies of their alternate selves.

     Webcomic  

     Western Animation  

  • In the two-part G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero episode "Worlds Without End", a few members of the team found themselves in an Alternate Dimension where the world was taken over by Cobra. Grunt and Steeler (who weren't with the group that discovered the alternate dimension) stumble upon the skeletons of three Joes. They're shocked to discover one of them is Clutch (who's also with the group) while the other two are themselves.
  • The "Johnny Appleseed" segment of Melody Time ends with Johnny, now an old man, dying quietly in his sleep. His guardian angel summons his soul to Heaven, but first Johnny pauses to stare at the strange man lying under a tree. Johnny is shocked when the angel tells him he's "just your husk, Johnny, your mortal husk."


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