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Flashback Nightmare
A convenient way of framing a Flashback to fit in the narrative flow.

Some people, when they sleep, get chased by giant hot dogs, fall down bottomless pits (where they presumably die of dehydration), see their best friends wearing crowns, or have other disturbing, sometimes Freudian experiences cooked up specially for them by their subconscious.

Then there are these people. The subconscious barely has to lift a finger. Their exact real-life experiences can provide plenty of finished material, and their dreams are moment-for-moment replays of something that happened to them before.

Some dreamers may have stretches of Flashback Nightmare in other dreams. As, for instance, dreaming of an encounter with a villain, but at the moment they actually meet, the villain is walking about with the wounds the hero gave him at the end of it.

Subtrope of Bad Dreams. See also Alternate Identity Amnesia, which provides for these nightmares.

Examples:

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     Anime and Manga  

  • Used in Code Geass to show how Lelouch was disowned by the royal family and sent to Japan.
  • Slayers: In the first season, Zelgadis has a flashback about when his great-grandfather, the priest Rezo, turned him into a chimera, igniting his Heel-Face Turn.
  • In the Guyver OAV, Sho has a nightmare about his fight with Lisker/Guyver 2, and how he subsequently melted/disintegrated.
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist, during the Central Library fight between Scar and the homunculi, the camera pans out and shows the glass of the windows shattering as they first start to charge at each other. Later, the fight is shown as part of a nightmare Scar is having, and he wakes up in the Ishvalan refugee camp.
  • Happens to the resident angst factory Ken at least twice in Digimon Adventure 02: Once in a flashback to his being infected with the Dark Spore during a Tamer's cameo dream, the other during a Whole Episode Flashback that basically explained his entire rather tear jerking backstory in one go.
  • Used in both versions of Chrono Crusade. In the manga, Chrono has two nightmares that hint at his past without fully revealing it—first, a very symbolic dream that mixes a typical nightmare with bits of truth into it, and then a brief flash of a battle that later gets shown in a proper flashback. In the anime, Rosette has a dream about Joshua that starts off normal before turning into a nightmare that symbolically shows how he was kidnapped by the Big Bad. This introduced Joshua before the flashback episode that explained Rosette's backstory.
  • Evangeline of Mahou Sensei Negima! conveniently remembers her defeat at the hands of Nagi when Negi spies on her dream. Of course, later revelations about Evangeline's real power level imply that the real battle probably wasn't quite as one-sided as the one in the dream.
  • Ciel from Black Butler has a nightmare of him on a table and a shadowed figure with glowing eyes hovering over him. He jerks awake and pulls out a gun from under his pillow and points it at Sebastian who was trying to wake him up. One other instance, although Ciel wasn't asleep, is where he recalls some of his horrific past events while at Baron Kelvin's estate which was set up like the hellish room Ciel had been taken to before he was supposed to be a child sacrifice. He watches as the psycho doctor working with Kelvin stabs a child who had been laid on a table and he recalls more of his own terrifying past. It's so bad that Ciel vomits and drops to his knees. When he looks up reaching out his hand we see the panels flash from the present to his past of him in a cage and masked figures grinning down at him. Sebastian pulls him out of it and reassures him that he's outside of the cage.
  • Agito of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha receives these in StrikerS a few episodes after she was introduced, showing her life as a lab subject in an illegal research facility before she was rescued by Zest and Lutecia.
  • Filicia from Sora No Woto gets this as part of her package deal as a Shell-Shocked Veteran. She's become a convincing Stepford Smiler to hide it, but doesn't always work.
  • In the Tales of Symphonia OAV, Zelos has one of these about his mother's death.
  • Heartcatch Precure plays with this. There's a dream showing Cure Moonlight fighting and losing to Cure Dark. For the other Cures, it's a Call to Adventure. For Yuri, it's this. And boy does she suffer from it.
  • In the Saint Beast OVAs, both Goh and Shin have dreams of the war in heaven. These are used as a framing device at the beginning and end of the two episodes. Zeus has a flashback daydream in the middle first OVA as well.
  • Guts from Berserk has a few, both of his horrific and abusive past, and later of the Eclipse.
  • Kotoura-san:
    • Yuriko had one in Episode 2, when she was reminded about posthumous abuses on her mother's abilities, complete with a Big "NO!".
    • Haruka in episode 6, when she recalled the time when her mother disowned her. Which foreshadows something at the stinger.

     Comics  

  • In Hack Slash, Cassie has a recurring Flashback Nightmare of destroying her undead mother, which she uses to defeat Ashley at their first meeting when he tries to pull a Your Worst Nightmare on her.
  • In Empowered, Mindf████ has a recurring Flashback Nightmare of her brother forcing her to cut out her own eyes and tongue, which gets transferred to her girlfriend Sistah Spooky due to telepathic Power Incontinence.

     Fan Fiction  

     Film  

     Literature  

  • Eugenides of The Queen's Thief is often woken screaming from nightmares of the Queen of Attolia, the woman who cut off his right hand and is also his wife.
  • One of the favorite tropes of Animorphs. Hardly a surprise, considering what they had been through.
  • Harry Potter mostly had semi-prophetic and psychological dreams, but Order of the Phoenix mentioned that his experience in the graveyard in the previous book had supplied a few of these.
  • Scott from The Power of Five had several of these, after a nice spell of Mind Rape and Cold-Blooded Torture.
  • In Dark Life, Ty has one of these about his time as a medical research subject.
  • Eve has these constantly in the In Death series.
    • As she finally begins to deal with her issues her dreams become more surreal, but rarely any less disturbing.
  • In the novel Ordinary People, Conrad Jarrett has some of his flashbacks to the sailing accident that killed his older brother, during which we gradually learn more about it, while asleep.
  • A Brother's Price: Ren dreams sometimes about the moments before - and just after - a theater exploded. Sometimes they're Anxiety Dreams and details are mixed around, new characters added, but other times they're pretty true to life.
  • Katniss and Peeta have them after being in The Hunger Games, but even before that Katniss had ones about her dad dying in the mine explosion.

     Live Action TV  

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Part of the Slayer package is flashbacks to battles of other Slayers in the form of nightmares. Angel Season 5 shows what happens when a crazy person gets them.
  • LOST: some of the show's characteristic flashbacks are presented as nightmares. One example is Sawyer's flashback in "Outlaws" to his father killing his mother, then himself.
  • The 2010 season of Home and Away started out with Hugo kidnapping Charlie, meaning these formed a part of her arc for the first few weeks.
  • Maddigan's Quest used this to illustrate Timon and Eden's backstory, in particular their parents' execution and the boys' subsequent escape from the future Solis.
  • In the first part of the Monk two parter Mr. Monk Is On the Run, Monk experiences a nightmare of the day Trudy was killed via car bomb, and he couldn't stop it. It was also implied in the same two parter that these nightmares were frequent.
  • In The X-Files, Mulder often has flashback nightmares of his sister's abduction. It may explain his insomnia. It stands out particularly in the episode "Paper Hearts".
  • In Sherlock, John gets one of these in the first episode, about when he got shot in Afghanistan. It's also likely he's having them again after the latest.

     Radio  

  • Parodied in Nebulous, where Nebulous often has horrific flashbacks to his childhood - working in the circus.

     Tabletop Games  

     Video Games  

  • Ashley of Another Code has the events of her third birthday come in a dream near the start of both games. Then again, seeing your mom get shot to death tends to be hard to forget.
  • Shadow had some in Final Fantasy VI, revealing that he was a train robber named Clyde who couldn't Mercy Kill his wounded partner and spent the rest of his life regretting it. They also underline the implication that he is Relm's Disappeared Dad. Since the nightmares appear at a very low chance when staying in inns, and even then only if you knew to save his life at the Floating Continent, many players don't even know of their existence.
    • Terra had something similar in the same game: Shortly after she attempts to escape from Narshe (while amnesiac), and ends up falling down the Narshe Caves, she passes out and then a flashback occurs where it is revealed that she was unwillingly subjected to being outfitted with a Slave Crown by Kefka Palazzo, leaving her brainwashed, and then killing over fifty imperial soldiers completely against her will with Kefka cheering her to continue burning them to a crisp, and then witnessing Emperor Gestahl's war speech, a flashback that would certainly have been very horrifying.
  • The regular story chapters of the Visual Novel Planetarian are interspersed with "The Junker's Dream" chapters, which describe the main character's flashback nightmares of his past as a child soldier.
  • Happens in the Visual Novel Songs Of Araiah, where Jason has dreams in which he remembers seeing the execution of his best friend by the Reformists
  • In Metal Gear Solid 4, when Old Snake finds out he has to return to Shadow Moses Island, the setting of the first Metal Gear Solid, he has a playable nightmare flashback complete with PS1 graphics.
    • It is implied in Metal Gear 2 that Solid Snake frequently experienced nightmares relating to his mission in Outer Heaven.
    • The severity of Raiden's nightmares about his Child Soldier past is the main reason he won't allow people (like Rosemary) to stay with him when he sleeps because he's afraid of hurting them.
  • Marshall Anderson of Outlaws has a recurring nightmare of the man who shot his father, and left him for dead. The nightmare repeats a few times before we finally see the entire scene, and the villain's face is revealed. It isn't until the final confrontation between Anderson and Bob Graham, that we see a Match Cut of Graham and the assailant that we find out that the two characters are one and the same. Que mandatory one-liner.
  • Zero has one of these at the start of Mega Man X4, and it is also implied that this wasn't the first time he had the nightmare.
  • Super Robot Wars Z2: Hakai-Hen had Chirico Cuvie experiencing one during the prologue of Scenario 39. It was about the final battle he had with the Barcoff Squadron and it showed how he was sad at the loss of their lives.
  • In Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World, Emil dreams of Richter killing him.
  • In Super Robot Wars MX, Hugo has a nightmare/flashback of the final moments he had with the Cry Wolves. After failing to neutralize the Devil Gundam, the Cry Wolves are taken out one by one. Alberto's son Foglia is turned into a zombie by the Devil Gundam and Hugo tries to reason with Foglia but ultimately gets his Gespenst blown up.

     Visual Novels  

  • Riki of Little Busters! has been having recurring nightmares since recently as of the beginning of the game, though it isn't until later that we find out what they're of, and it isn't until much later that we find out that they are this trope. Specifically, memories of an event that have been repressed when he's awake as long as he exists in the created world.
  • Kei of Akai Ito gets nightmares of things taking place in the past, including the last days of Sakuya's people.

     Webcomics  

  • Susan of El Goonish Shive has one of finding out about her father's affair.

  • Sarine Elle, central figure in Errant Story, has a real honker of a flashback nightmare about the disastrous birth of her stillborn daughter, which goes far toward explaining her relationship with Meji Hinadori.
  • Jade's second dream in Homestuck after her dreamself's death ends up being this, though to be fair, Jade was going off the rails and Feferi (who had died) probably didn't mean to startle her. She's just kind of weird like that.
    • In general Sburb players with dead dream selves experience flashbacks in their dreams, though they are not nightmares most of the time.
  • Vashiel gets a couple of these in Misfile.
    • Leading to some fans to label him a mass murderer.
  • Vaarsuvius from The Order of the Stick gets flashback nightmares of a certain traumatic experience he/she suffered months earlier. To make it worse, trancing, the equivalent of sleep for elves, actually consists of reviewing memories in minute detail for the sake of self-reflection and committing those events to very long-term memory. This makes V's Flashback Nightmares far more literal than any regular example and handily explains V's reluctance to trance.
  • The seedlings from morphE get a fully animated one in the second chapter which hints to the traumas they each suffered when in captivity. A second has been made which includes one of the captives waking up and being discovered by the knife-wielding woman from the prologue.
  • Terra introduces Alexis Hawke in her nightmare of being captured and enslaved by the Shadow Cabal during the Titan Colony massacre, then segues into the present day when she wakes up.

     Web Original  

     Web Animation  

  • Played with in Broken Saints, for each of the heroes' Dark and Troubled Pasts.

  • In the beginning of the fifth episode of Super Mario Bros. Z, Sonic is experiencing a nightmare harkening back to the day when Mecha Sonic mercilessly slaughtered his friends, and pretty much every single inhabitant of Planet Mobius while torching a large portion of the planet, while Sonic was knocked out from his fight with the Koopa Bros.

     Western Animation  

     Real Life  

  • This can and does happen to people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, including but not limited to combat veterans. While not always in dreams, reliving the traumatic experience in high detail is literally known as a "flashback".
  • People who have experimented heavily in psychotropic drugs also have flashbacks to previous trips.

Flashback EffectsFlashbacks and ChronologyFlashback Stares
Fever Dream EpisodeDream TropesGirl of My Dreams

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