Go Mad from the Isolation
"How's it going in there, Kyle? The first six months I was in solitary, I did push-ups every day and I never talked to myself. The next six months, I stopped doing push-ups and I... I confess... I did talk a little to myself. The six months after that... those next six months, Kyle?
] You don’t wanna know what happened then."
Extended social isolation that makes a person go crazy. People who are stranded alone
will usually be subject to this. A person on a ship
or in space
where it is months or years until they reach their destination are also at risk. Solitary confinement can be a way of invoking
this as punishment.
Related to Tailor-Made Prison
and Bored With Insanity
(for when the isolation induced crazy waxes then wanes). And I Must Scream
is an extreme version of this which often goes with total immobilization and/or sensory deprivation.
Various techniques can be employed to deal with loneliness, such as maintaining a strict daily schedule or keeping a diary. In comedy, it's often demonstrated by having the character talk to objects
or an Imaginary Friend
to alleviate their suffering.
A common effect is for them to greet actual rescues with the belief that they are dreaming, or have gone mad. For years after escape, Bad Dreams
may throw them back into the belief they are still a prisoner.
And I Must Scream
scenarios often play off of this as a Primal Fear
Truth in Television
, as studies of prisoners in solitary confinement
See also Hermit Guru
, Cabin Fever
, and Loners Are Freaks
. Subtrope of The Aloner
. Experiences like these in solitary confinement can lead someone to declare that they're Never Going Back To Prison
and would die first.
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Anime and Manga
- One Piece's Brook spent fifty-plus years in total isolation and flashbacks suggest he definitely went at least a little crazy in that time. This might also have caused a deterioration of social skills that has resulted in Brook being one of anime's few post-mortem Dirty Old Men.
- Made worse by his Devil Fruit powers, which resurrected his soul into his undying skeleton, so in his isolation he couldn't even look forward to dying of starvation or thirst before his second lifespan finally ran out at some unknown point in the future. Due to a promise he made he couldn't kill himself, either. So he was stuck there, alone, for fifty years, with only his instruments to keep him company — and the skeletal remains of his former crew, who he had been in charge of when they died.
- Also Level 6 of Impel Down is Isolation for prisoners. Shiliew even stated that he was so bored he wished for death.
- The Level 6 prisoners aren't completely isolated, being able to talk to each other.
- Rozen Maiden manga has Kirakishou who's been isolated in the N-Field so long she begins to go insane.
- Elfen Lied: Subverted by Mariko Kurama. She was immobilized in a giant containment unit soon after she was born and stayed there for 8 years, with her only contact with the outside world being a lab assistant speaking to her via an intercom. She isn't exactly a poster child for mental health, being a sadistic brat, but she eventually reveals herself to be far more bitter than crazy. And realistically, she should barely be able to talk, much less function on her own.
- One of the reasons why Yugi from Tenchi in Tokyo turned to a life of villainy.
- Likely the main reason Lucia from Rave Master is so screwed up. In general, locking a small child up in a maximum security prison and depriving them of contact with the rest of the world for ten years is bad for one's mental health.
- After an untold amount of time floating alone in space, a villain Cars, Big Bad of the second arc of Jojos Bizarre Adventure, is said to go so mad that his mind just shuts off.
- The same thing happens to Magenta Magenta in Part 7, minus the space part.
- Almost happens to Cyborg 009 in an episode of the 2001 series, when he spends a whole episode stuck in his Super Speed mode. What feels as mere seconds for the others, is for him several days spent unable to interact with anyone since he moves so fast that no one can see/hear/etc. him, and he can't touch them either as the smallest touch could set anything ablaze. It truly is an And I Must Scream situation, and he almost crosses the Despair Event Horizon.
- Averted with the old man in Suicide Island. He's far more concerned with survival than contact with others — going so far as to actively avoid contact with anyone — but his mental health is possibly the best on the entire island.
- Happens briefly to Hachimaki in episode 16 of Planetes. After he's inadvertently isolated for a brief time in space, he develops Acute Spatial Disorder and has problems doing his job in space. He's treated by being put inside a sensory deprivation room. Once it goes dark inside, his mind starts to play tricks on him, and he's forced to overcome the problem.
- Comedic example in Yugami-kun ni wa Tomodachi ga Inai: New Transfer Student Chihiro Watanuki thinks being isolated by classmates and having no one to talk to at school could cause not just her, but anybody psychological damage. Not the case with Yuuji Yugami, the loner who sits beside her and averts this; despite being ignored by everyone in class, he's completely fine with it and has an optimistic, confident personality to boot.
- Element Lad of the Legion of Super-Heroes spent billions of years as the only being in the universe after being flung outside time and space in Legion Lost. He was driven very much insane as a result, although there was also some Showing Off The Perilous Power Source involved. It took him weeks to even remember his former friends when they were brought to his attention.
- Inverted in DV8 #5, when Copycat gets trapped in a White Void Room. She's already mad (she has multiple personality disorder). Spending time in the void allows her personalities to start integrating.
- Cable's recent series involving Time Travel and Bishop chasing after a MacGuffin Girl had Deadpool. Wait, I see you all there in TV trope land thinking "But he's already Crazy Awesome." but this Deadpool got stuck in a container underneath the earth for hundreds of years. He created another personality to play Hangman against and then started arguing with that personality cause it was better at playing Hangman than he was.
- There's a comic in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, Mostly Automatic, which has a young man with a sweetheart taking a load of cargo on a trip which should have taken two weeks, during which he happily planned to lounge around playing games and watching vids. But a rock hit his ship, taking out the hyperdrive and the comm. Sublight engines still functioned, but it was ten parsecs to any kind of civilization and would take sixty years, alone on a little ship. He put the ship on automatic and then "quietly, and very deliberately... went... out... of... my... mind..." For the first few years he mostly slept until he ran out of sleep-inducing medication, then he went mad until he found an inactive service droid in a box in the hold and activated her, which helped.
- Appa Ali Apsa, also known as the Old Timer, was once one of the Guardians of the Universe; in fact, he was the last Guardian to remain behind when the others departed for another dimension. Unfortunately, being left alone on Oa was not conducive to his continued sanity. He now had all the power of Oa too.
- During the Obsidian Age story arc of JLA, Plastic Man is frozen, shattered into tiny pieces and scattered across the Atlantic Ocean floor almost 3000 years in the past. When the League finally reconstitutes him in the present, he reveals he was awake and aware the entire time. During that period, he went insane and then became sane again because it got boring.
- For an inversion, a later story involves the Flash curing a persistent malignant computer program called the Construct by duplicating it so that it had something similar to itself to talk to. He later discovers that the Constructs have since evolved into an entire species of electronic beings who worship him as a god.
- The origin of the Doom Patrol villain Mister Nobody is that he was injected with a powerful anaesthetic and left in a White Void Room for three days, resulting in a combination of this trope and Enlightenment Superpowers.
- During The Death of Superman, it's revealed that this is what happened to Hank Henshaw, the Cyborg Superman - after making his escape from Earth using a piece of Superman's birthing matrix rocket ship, he wandered the galaxy for so long, he went completely mad, having him believe that Superman drove him from Earth.
- In the Silver Age Batman story "Robin Dies at Dawn", Batman begins hallucinating his sidekick's death after being locked in a sensory deprivation chamber for several hours.
- Used offensively against Wolverine during an X-Men arc, as part of a brainwashing attempt, using the the recently made Asian Ninja, Psylocke, on the outside to make things worse. Thing is, Wolverine is already a bit mad, and this just antagonized things, and he ended up pushing his own issues back into Psylocke's head.
- Scar Tissue: After Third Impact Shinji was left alone in a devastated planet for a long time. As he wandered over the countryside, scavenging food from the ruins, he was going slowly crazy. He could not even tell when he was asleep or awake and he was starting to have visions when he finally found Asuka. When someone asked her because he stood up for her Shinji replied that she gave him a reason for living and kept him sane.
- Fanfiction author Asidian creates a scenario in their work Broken Glass to Sweep Away as a Rise of the Guardians work featuring Jack Frost and Pitch Black when the latter imprisons the younger spirit in a cage in his lair for an unknown period of time. It is heavily suggested the period of time is a few decades, and in the beginning Pitch suggests he would keep Jack here "80 years or so".
- ex umbra in solem, a crossover fic between Warehouse13 and Sanctuary, combines this with Who Wants to Live Forever? as an explanation for why the various immortal characters have all become varying degrees of unstable.
Griffin: I've made mistakes, Christ, we all 'ave. We tried to play at bein' God. It was arrogant and foolish and we thought we succeeded. We forgot that God is lonely. Why else would he have made man? Its not the age or the grief or the rage. Its the loneliness that has driven all of us mad. We cling to the people around us, to save us from ourselves. And when they die, we can't follow. After a while, the options become either cut yourself off totally or go completely insane.
- Kasumi invokes this trope to Alex Kane in the Dead or Alive fic Kunoichis Like Us:
Kasumi: "No one should ever be truly alone, Alex. Otherwise how would we stay sane?"
- In the Batman fic Falling in Deeper, one of the main characters is send to solitary confinement... The way the authors write it slowly getting to her is disturbing realistic.
Films — Animated
Films — Live-Action
- Ben Gunn from Treasure Island.
- In Cast Away, our hero ends up talking to a volleyball... which, according to the survival specialist consultants on the film, saved his life from madness. In the script, Wilson even has "lines" which we don't hear.
- King Kong: Word of God claims this as the reason for Kong's aggressive, violent tendencies in Peter Jackson's remake. Being a gorilla (a naturally social species, like humans) without a family, on an island where Everything Is Trying to Kill You, would do that. Some Truth in Television there too, as solitary gorillas in captivity are often known to go insane from loneliness.
- Zac Hobson of The Quiet Earth. He recovers shortly before he meets another survivor, though.
- Happens to the protagonist of I Am Legend — as a major plot driver. Taxi Driver meets mannequins!
- Moon: Starts happening to the protagonist — Or does it?.
- Rocket Man plays this for laughs when the protagonist is accidentally prevented from entering suspended animation for the nine-month trip to Mars, with clips of him at one day in, one month in, and a month in for each subsequent month. By the seventh, he's painting a replica of the Sistine Chapel's ceiling on the ceiling of the spaceship.
- And at the end, it happens again...
- A variation at the beginning of the film. The protagonist and an astronaut are undergoing trials to see which one will be included in the mission. Both are locked in separate chambers of an isolation tank for 24 hours to test their endurance. While the tank is completely insulated from the outside world, the two chambers are not insulated from one another. The protagonist entertains himself by singing, throwing a ball, and having sock puppet plays. By the time the tank opens, the astronaut is the one who has signs of insanity from all that noise, while the protagonist asks to be put back in the tank to finish his play.
- Taxi Driver: Travis Bickle goes insane from the almost total isolation he experiences. He works and interacts with other people but he finds himself completely unable to connect to anyone and develops murderous tendencies. Most of his time is spent alone in his apartment or driving a cab.
- Inception: This is one of the dangers of entering someone else's dream. Normally getting killed in a dream only wakes you up. However, if you're too deeply sedated, you wind up in a world where time passes much, much, much faster than normal. You will eventually wake up, but the question is, will you still retain your sanity?
- Henri Young in Murder in the First spends three years in solitary confinement after attempting to escape from Alcatraz. He does have some human contact during those years; unfortunately, the humans are very sadistic guards. When he's finally released from solitary, he has a psychotic episode and kills the inmate who snitched on him and foiled the escape attempt.
- Similar to the Stargate example below, when Jack Sparrow spends several months in Davy Jones's Locker between the second and third Pirates of the Caribbean films, he goes...well...even crazier than he was before. When the other characters arrive to rescue him, he assumes that they're just a more varied sort of hallucination (the ones he was having before were just lots and lots of iterations of himself).
- In Sunshine, Captain Pinbacker was left alone in the Icarus I for 7 years, until the Icarus II comes along. He mistakes Capa for an angel. Then again, he was a little mad in the first place...
- Oh Dae-Su from Oldboy gets locked up in room for reasons unknown to him for 15 years, being released when he was going to escape. He gets obsessed with revenge at any cost.
- In the British film The Mindbenders a scientist turns traitor and then commits suicide when about to be arrested. An assistant and friend seems to know what was going on and volunteers to show them. They were experimenting with sensory deprivation which made the older man open to suggestion like self brainwashing. The younger man almost succumbs himself.
- Mission to Mars finds Luke Graham marooned on Mars for a year after his crewmates are killed in a storm, and he attacks his rescuers when they arrive because he thinks they're just a hallucination. He quickly reverts to normal once he realizes they're real, however.
- The Incredible Burt Wonderstone has Burt and Anton try to pull off a stunt where they stay in a levitated box in the Las Vegas heat for a week. They only last twenty minutes before Burt starts to freak.
- Ben Gunn from Treasure Island is semi-insane from being marooned on the island for several years. He's coherent enough to help the heroes, though.
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Both Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent go mad when stuck in earth's prehistory, although admittedly they chose to go mad to save time. Ford got Bored With Insanity, himself.
- The short story "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.
- The Seventh Tower: Comes up as a problem for Tal when dealing with a character isolated inside a sunstone, complete with her spiritshadow. Considering the character herself admits to having been mad, Tal is wary in trusting her advice.
- In the Star Trek The Q Continuum novel trilogy, the omnipotent being 0 has spent millions of years isolated outside the galaxy (and his inability to travel at light speed precluded him from travelling to distant galaxies), and has turned mad from the isolation, making him even more powerful than the omnipotent Q.
- In Jack Vance's Lyonesse, King Casmir imprisons Prince Aillas at the bottom of an oubliette. Aillas gradually loses his sanity and starts thinking of the skeletons of former inmates as friends and comrades in adversity. He gets better after escaping.
- Marion Zimmer Bradley's story Elbow Room is something of a twist: the woman chosen for duty on an isolated station is actually all alone; the other people she thinks are there are her other personalities. She briefly flips out when she realizes this, but then goes back to the way things were. (Someone else who's read this story could probably describe it better.) There's a brief mention of how they tried sending groups of extroverts to man the station together, but they couldn't stand being cooped up together.
- In the Firekeeper saga, the spellcaster Virim went mad from spending nearly a century or more alone in a tower far from civilization. When Firekeeper and her allies enter it, they find it full of various illusions and images of Virim constantly debating and arguing, representing his every second thought since unleashing the plague that killed the world's magic users.
- In the second book in The Bartimaeus Trilogy (The Golem's Eye), Honorius is an example of this after being cooped up in Gladstone's tomb for over a century.
- In James Swallow's Warhammer 40,000 novel Black Tide, Tarikus recounts how Fabius Bile keeps the captive Space Marines isolated for months or years to break them. In the short story "The Returned", Tarikus wakes with a jolt, taking seconds to realize he is no longer Bile's prisoner; he has suffered it since his escape. The psyker examining him comments off-hand that obviously he was deeply tormented by his experience. Later, after a test which rendered him just short of brain dead, he awakes peacefully and deeply relishes it.
- In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story A Witch Shall Be Born, Tamaris at first does not recognize her rescuers.
- Weirdly averted in most of the stories written by Larry Niven. He seems to assume that humans are able to survive extremely long periods of isolation without going nuts, as seen in situations such as people traveling through deep space for years, or a man with a time-accelerating device camping out inside it for six or more months so his arm transplant will heal and throw off the forensic investigators looking for someone who just got a new arm transplant. Played straight, however, in one short story about a guy who ends up spending several million years all alone doing the same routine while flying a spaceship. He loses the ability to think or act outside of that routine.
- Total sensory deprivation and isolation is used as an interrogation technique by the KGB in Tom Clancy's The Cardinal of the Kremlin; one of the interrogators mentions that it's much more effective than torture. The specifics involve a neutral-buoyancy pool, carefully crafted restraints designed not to be felt, and a sound-isolation technique designed to neutralize the sound of the subject's own voice, so that the subjects couldn't even hear themselves talking.
- Drizzt Do'Urden in R. A. Salvatore's Exile has a theoretically even worse problem - not only is he being affected by the isolation when hiding in underground caverns alone, but the "company" of the local Everything Trying to Kill You is causing him to combine this with reflexive killer's instincts that can pop up at the wrong time. The only thing that's keeping him somewhat sane through all this is talking to his cat. (Admittedly, she's a magical panther that can understand him, if not answer.)
- The protagonist of House of the Scorpion suffers from a mild case of this, on account of being locked in a room full of chicken litter for six months.
- The Stephen King short story "The Jaunt" had a futuristic mode of transportation which got people to their destination almost instantly, but they have to be knocked out beforehand. Otherwise, the person's mind feels like it spent an eternity in isolation. Anyone conscious during the trip arrives insane or just falls over dead.
- Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea: After seven months of not talking with any other human being except Captain Nemo, The Professor Aronnax and Battle Butler Conseil, the independent and Book Dumb Ned Land, not interested in submarine investigation, is slowly going insane.
I'll also mention that the Canadian, at the end of his strength and patience, made no further appearances. Conseil couldn't coax a single word out of him and feared that, in a fit of delirium while under the sway of a ghastly homesickness, Ned would kill himself. So he kept a devoted watch on his friend every instant.
- The Saga of the Noble Dead has the ancient vampire Li'kan, who has spent thousands of years alone in an ice-covered fortress on a mountain peak, her unnatural life sustained by an Artifact of Doom. By the time the protagonists encounter her, she has forgotten even the sound of speech.
- In Jack Campbell's Fearless, several rescued prisoners, despite each other's company, still were badly affected enough to wake up thinking they are back there.
- The Lord of the Rings: Apart from the corrupting influence of the One Ring, living for several centuries in the darkness of a subterranean lake under the Misty Montains probably didn't help Sméagol/Gollum keeping his sanity.
- In Remnants, Mother is a Sapient Ship whose creators abandoned her for unknown reasons, leaving her AI running. How does a computer go mad? Very, very slowly.
- In Devon Monk's Allie Beckstrom book Magic to the Bone, used on Cody. They can even get him to do thing he knows are bad by giving him a kitten and threatening to take it away.
- Ilox in The Wild Boy goes insane after being put in a 'cocoon', a sensory deprivation technique intended to fix his 'problem' with his psychic bond with Phlarx.
- Mere in Robert Reed's Great Ship universe spent ten thousand years alone in a barely functional starship no larger than an outhouse, her only company being a half-dead nearly mute AI that was obsessed with getting her to safety. By the time the ship breaks up in the atmosphere and Mere's body heals itself, she is thoroughly insane, not knowing how to even move.
- In Zel, a retelling of "Rapunzel", being trapped in a tower for two years with only the company of her mother for an hour every day causes Zel's sanity to slip to the point where she's walking around naked and babbling to a hallucination of a horse in her room.
- During Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor Luke gets trapped in a vision of something called The Dark - floating insensate in space at the end of everything, with nothing to do but watch the stars go out, for what feels like a very, very long time. When he gets out, he's uncharacteristically nihilistic and depressed, not able to see the world the way he had before. Luke then forces himself to act exactly like he would have before in the hopes of Becoming the Mask, but in quiet moments he says things like "It makes me want to die. No... not die. Just stop."
- Sail with Pirates: The pilot from Concepcion, after causing the ship to be wrecked at sea, runs away as soon the crew lands on an uninhabited island, and hides. He lives there alone for a long time. By the time the protagonist meets with him, he has become completely insane, but still gives some cryptic hints regarding the shipwreck location.
- In the first book of Venus Prime series, Sparta is described as struggling to avoid crying herself to sleep during the years that she spends training to become a Space Board Inspector, because she's horribly lonely but also afraid that socializing might cause her to expose something about her past. In the fourth book, she suffers a nervous breakdown after a combination of prolonged isolation from others and a steadily-worsening drug habit.
- Averted in Kage Baker's "The Empress of Mars". An super talented inventor proposes to escape the Evil Corporation that is after the patents to his tiny robots that fertilize crops as real bees are too disoriented by being on Mars to function. He flees to an isolated cave and has the robots build him a workshop. Mary, owner of the bar "The Empress of Mars", says that living without people will drive him mad. He says it won't as he is "eccentric" (can mean almost any non-standard mental state, in this case high functioning autism.) Justified in that he has spent most of his life avoiding physical contact with others. But he has a lawyer see that his father is provided with money from those patents. He cares, he just doesn't show it the usual ways.
- Martha from Clocks that Don't Tick, to an extent. Four hundred years isolated in the Space Needle didn't do her psyche any favors.
Live Action TV
- In TNA, Raven was put into solitary confinement for Abyss's Monster's Ball and learned that he hated it, saying it would have driven him crazy if he wasn't insane already.
- In the Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama Davros, the titular villain is rescued from a form of suspended animation. He explains to the Doctor that he was conscious the entire time, and went cycling between insanity and sanity about once every second. Ultimately subverted: Davros is as sane as ever once he's finally released.
- Ben Gunn in Dino Attack RPG has been living in the Goo Caverns for so long he can't even remember who he is. However, he does turn up again near the end a bit saner.
- Wallace Bishop's mental health had declined after the lab accident that resulted in the death of his assistant, but it was the years of complete isolation while committed to Napoleon XIV Mental Institution that really drove him into madness.
- In Dungeons & Dragons, there was a demonic armor that was cursed so that the wearer could not remove it once equipped. However, the armor was also enchanted to provide sustenance so that the wearer did not have to eat, drink, or sleep. The story goes that one adventurer found and wore the armor. As his party was adventuring through a dungeon, he fell into a pit trap that sealed itself after he fell in. His party didn't notice him fall and never found the trap. The poor adventurer spent decades in the pit going mad before dying of old age.
- New World of Darkness has characters who spend incredibly long periods of time alone (say, years) make rolls to avoid degeneration. Failing a degeneration check requires rolling to avoid getting derangements.
- While player characters usually needn't worry, the books specify that this is a way to justify insane Storyteller characters (such as, say, a Promethean who's spent so long "going to the wastes" he can't even remember how to talk).
- Changeling: The Lost: Changelings have to roll for Clarity if they go a week without human contact; being already traumatized, abused, and delusional, not having others around to reassure one's normalcy and safety is a great way to sink further and further into madness...
- To say nothing of Geniuses. They tend toward insanity to begin with, and staying around normal, mundane people with normal, mundane values is one of the main ways they keep themselves anchored and able to understand normal human modes of thinking. For reference, killing people is less bad for a Genius's sanity than going a month without human contact. Going a week without human contact is worse than leaving people to die, or kidnapping. Even going a day without human contact is a sin (but then, so is surgery.)
- Isolation is one of the five Stress Gauges in Unknown Armies.
- In Magic: The Gathering, this what the flavor text tells us about the mysterious Uncle Istvan: "Solitude drove the old hermit insane. Now he only keeps company with those he can catch."
- Inverted with the Alchemical Exalted: while lengthy periods without human contact - and it has to be human, other Alchemicals don't count - do cause behavioural changes, due to the nature of Clarity, it could be argued that they're going sane - the kind of ruthless, calculating mechanical sanity that makes crazy seem like a good thing, admittedly, but sane nonetheless!
- In Portal the protagonist comes across the makeshift camps of an earlier survivor, Doug Rattmann: isolated for weeks in a death maze presided over by a pathological AI, there is evidence that he had succumbed to insanity, such at the photographs with the faces replaced with pictures of their inanimate Companion Cube. How he managed to even function faced with both schizophrenia and social isolation is a mystery. The comic had implications that by NOT taking his meds, he became so dysfunctionally paranoid that he ended up preparing for every single possible outcome, most of which GLaDOS threw at them.
- In Left 4 Dead 2, in the Last Man On Earth mode, you're the only Survivor (and there's a mysterious absence of Common Infected), but your character still talks as if the others are still there. This is made even creepier by the fact that your character will still periodically shout out something along the lines of "Hello?" as if they're continually looking for the other survivors.
- In Mass Effect 1, if you save rescuing Liara for last, you'll find that she has gone half mad from spending so much time in a bubble. She'll refuse to believe that you aren't a hallucination until you physically drag her to safety. She recovers pretty quickly, though.
- The Rachni encountered all have gone murderously insane from being separated from their queen.
- In the Warcraft III expansion campaign, Maiev accuses Illidan, who spent ten thousand years as a Sealed Evil in a Can cut off from any contact with other intelligent beings, of being insane. He archly replies that yes, isolation will do that to the mind. All the more ironic because she was his chief jailer and, as a result, became completely fixated on him as the only purpose of her life.
- In Myst III: Exile, this is partially why the game's antagonist Saavedro wants revenge on Atrus and the protagonist. Saavedro wants to go home to see his family after years of being alone. The player can choose to let him go home at the end of the game, or leave him in a spot where he can see his village, but be unable to reach it through a force field, knowing it's forever out of his reach.
- Myst IV explores this trope a couple different ways. Sirius and Achenar were sentenced to two very different forms of solitary confinement. Sirius, the more rational of the two, goes totally nuts because he spent the last twenty years in a place with no indigenous life forms. Achenar, who was unhinged from the start, actually gets rehabilitated from his stretch in a place which has many different forms of life. Conclusion: Isolation is only guaranteed to drive you mad if you are the only sentient life form present.
- Discussed in Blaze Union as Gram Blaze travels to meet up with Nessiah, who has spent the past several years as a hermit living deep in the forest. Eudy complains that a place like this is way too cut-off from society. She has spent the past few years studying ballistics alone in the mountains. She is immediately called out on this, and Hilarity Ensues.
- In Halo, Forerunner AI 343 Guilty Spark fell victim to this after 100,000 years of isolation, explaining his eccentricity and occasional AxCrazy moments.
- Cortana is on the verge of falling into this at the start of Halo 4, due to her being marooned in space for four years with no company except a lone Super Soldier in stasis and her burgeoning rampancy.
- In a non-AI example, Halo: Silentium reveals that this is largely why the Ur-Didact has been unable to let go of his genocidal hate for humanity.
- In The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Azura and Sheogorath make a bet about whether or not this is always the case.
- Implied to have happened with The Twelve Traitors in Lusternia. Granted, they were pretty merciless prior to their exile in the Void, but thousands of years alone wandering the darkness certainly weren't kind to Fain. And as for Morgfyre…
- Averted in BlazBlue. Hakumen spent 90 years alone in the Void, and retained his sanity through sheer force of will.
- Played straight for Arakune, though. As a human named Lotte Carmine, he continued to isolate himself in his own research to be the scientist supreme for himself, refusing even the only one who wanted to help him, Litchi (the rest could not care less about him at all). When he goes to the Boundary despite Litchi's warning, the corruption got to him easily due to him isolating himself, and thus turning him into Arakune.
- Ghost Trick: Yomiel spent years separated from humanity, with his fiancée having committed suicide because he was presumed dead, unable to die, and this is what fueled his need for revenge. Though he wasn't technically alone...
- Voldo from the Soul Series lost his sanity as well as his sight from years of being locked in the Money Pit.
- This is one of the many, many infernal punishments available in the game of Afterlife, "Screaming Subspace Voids". Lustful Souls are blindfolded, ear-plugged, and trussed up so as to be immobile, then suspended in a pit for a couple hundred years, effectively simulating The Nothing After Death. Insanity Usually Sets in After a Hour.
- This almost happened to Laurent in Fire Emblem Awakening. When he and his childhood friends from the bad future decided to attempt Time Travel to save their world, Laurent was accidentally thrown three years before the date they should have arrived to. As a result he spends quite a while on his own in a practically strange land, and up until he finally finds his friends as well as the parent characters, there were times when he was this close to completely losing it.
- Invoked in Silent Hill 2 where the atmosphere of the game is designed to "heighten the player's sense of isolation" to contribute to the horror. The first action the player takes is to run down a purposefully long, empty, foggy, narrow path while mysterious footsteps sound behind you with no known source.
- In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Cicero's journal shows that the reason he became the maniacal jester he is now was due to seeing the Dark Brotherhood crumble all around him and being stuck taking care of the Night Mother with a long time with nothing but the memory of his final contract, a jester who simply laughed as he died.
- The Nameless Mod: "Welcome to my domain, mortal. I've put up a scrambling field to disrupt all communication in and out of the facility. Let's see how long it'll take before I can make you scream like a little girl." —Shadow Code.
- In Borderlands, Patricia Tannis was already a little neurotic when she came to Pandora to research the Eridians, but after being the only member of her team to survive Pandora's various hazards, she started going completely over the edge, doing things like dating (and breaking up with) her ECHO recorder and having extended conversations with the corpse of one of her late team members.
- Dawn of War: Turns out that staying in the Warp alone for centuries is, in fact, not good for the mind, as Azariah Kyras can attest.
Though it was a simpler, weaker
voice that illuminated me during my centuries upon the Judgement of Carrion. It was Khorne's
messenger, who showed me the true path to freedom from our pathetic corpse-Emperor. And what is this path, this meaning, this purpose, to which we gather the skulls of our foes? It is nothing. There is no path. No meaning. We murder. We kill. It is mindless savagery, this universe
- In Don't Starve, your character is Trapped in Another World all by themselves, which by itself is enough to cause their Sanity Meter to slowly decrease.
- Explore long enough in Kairo and you'll come across some sort of observation room with a skeleton at the desk. There are some very startling words engraved into the arm of the stone chair.
- In Chopping Block, the serial killer Butch left a woman locked up in his basement with no contact with the outside world to see if it was possible for someone to become bored to death. The story is told from the woman's point of view and ends with her happily telling the room's inanimate objects good bye because Butch has gotten tired of waiting and is just gonna put a power drill through her head.
- The point of Ian Samson's strip Idle Minds, where the heroine is disguised as a statue for one week in a big deserted gallery so she can spy on the Big Bad and his sidekick when they visit the place. The isolation, together with her fear that she may have failed in her mission, drives her completely crazy, but she's saved by her subconscious mind.
- An example in the comic Penny Arcade did for the Fallout 3 release, featuring a Vault containing one man... and a crate full of puppets. With predictable and insane results. Yes. Yes indeed.
- Bob and George George goes mad partly from this, partly from Unwilling Suspension.
- 8-Bit Theater:
- For all of his power, Sarda was just a little bugnuts insane. One of the more extreme versions of this trope happened to him, by way of him accidentally stranding himself at the beginning of time and being forced to take The Slow Path back to modern time. For billions of years, frozen and alone.* One would think, and some of his other dialogue supports this, that these vast ages of isolation were what shattered Sarda's sanity.
- In actual fact, Sarda's sanity was pre-shattered before he knew a single spell, let alone had traveled to the beginning of the universe. As Onion Kid, when Sarda accidentally caught a glimpse of Black Mage's uncovered face, the horror he saw cracked his mind like an eggshell. Being forced to endure both possible maddening experiences in succession, plus all the other fresh abuse Black Mage and the others kept heaping on him including killing his parents - repeatedly, working through several sets of foster parents - turned him into, well, Sarda. A case, where being the only sentient being in existence for eons manages not to be the worst thing to happen to a character's sanity.
- In Drowtales, Diva'ratrika only barely managed to avert this after her daughters betrayed her and collapsed her throne room around her, and she stayed alive because of a single slave that was able to fit through the air ducts and provide some company and sustenance. She managed to stay alive for a year, but in that time her sanity definitely began to slip, and in the end she separates her aura from her body, effectively killing herself, and does a Fusion Dance with Ragini, the slave.
- Artificial intelligences in Schlock Mercenary tend to do this...very quickly, since they think at computer speed. Petey, the company's second ship, had been left cut off from his systems for four hundred years, which felt like 40 billion with his clock speed, after thwarting his multi-megaton suicide attempt the captain gave him a direct order to lock away his memories of the isolation, which made him a bit more sane. This later becomes a major plot issue again in the "Random Access Memorabilia" story arc, with Tagii, who goes stark raving mad after a couple hours of isolation, or ten thousand years.
- Subverted by T'kkkuts-Afa. Everyone is terrified of the idea of a super-intelligent AI being trapped with no company for 12 million years, but once contact is actually made, she's just following her original programming. After becoming aware she no longer needs to suppress annie plants, she eventually "retires" and goes on to become the Tough's newest AI.
- Played for Laughs, but in Pokemon White: Hard Mode, Ruby's Pidove, Lucy, goes insane from being left in the box alone. For only a few hours.
Lucy: ...box, box, box, box, box, box, box, box, box, box...
- Dragon Ball Multiverse: U13 Kakarot.
- This is one theory as to why Salad Fingers is so mentally disturbed.
- This Grickle short had Santa Claus have this happen to him, leading to a little bit of Fridge Horror that he lives on what amounts to a desolate ice cap. He begins growling like a lion to an audience of elves, and his elves start squealing like monkeys in something that evokes 2001: A Space Odyssey, all while rather creepy music is playing. It's terrifying.
- SCP Foundation
- SCP-201 ("The Empty World"). People that get displaced to the realm of SCP-201 for more than three months, as said by the description itself, "suffer lasting psychological damage consistent with being sequestered within solitary confinement".
- SCP-2701 ("True Solitary"). People put inside cell 667 experience full sensory deprivation, suffering mental trauma that causes cognitive shutdown or mania. Those incarcerated for less than two hours end end up with one or more phobias (such as nyctophobia, photophobia, claustrophobia or agoraphobia) or serious mental illnesses such as dementia, catatonia and anorexia. Those spending more than 2 hours inside usually suffer a complete psychological breakdown.
- Orfield Labratories of Minnesota created the quietest isolation chamber in the world for various experiments. NASA uses it for training astronauts to deal with the extreme quiet of space. The effects come on extremely fast, with people starting to have auditory hallucinations and asking to be let out in less than forty-five minutes.
- Felicity Aston, first woman to make a solo trek across Antarctica, took almost sixty days. She was not entirely out of contact with the world - she used Twitter the whole way - and "mad" is very much overstating it, but she didn't see anyone else for the whole time. Ashton wrote about “Having to remind myself of the rules now I’m not alone; no peeing wherever I stand, no talking to the sun, no snot or dribble on my face…” and was clearly affected when she finished.
- When highly social animals are kept alone in captivity, this can result. Most zoo accreditation organizations require that their members do not house such animals alone.
- The original example of solitary confinement was instituted by the Quakers in the 1790s. The idea being that the criminal thus confined would have only God and his own thoughts to keep him company, and thus the penitent would emerge from confinement born again and fully-reformed. In actual fact, such prisoners frequently hanged or mutilated themselves, or became so violently paranoid that they were never able to rejoin society.
- Solitary confinement for extended periods of time is recognized as a form of torture.