This is when a character who is an actor (not an actor in Real Life who plays a character) goes so deep into their role that they end up temporarily forgetting their original self. They usually start Method Acting, and before anyone knows it are so immersed in the role they're playing that they almost literally become that role, forgetting their old name, life, and setting aside their original personality. It's worth noting that while this is analogous to Becoming the Mask, the character who becomes this is not a criminal or The Mole, may not even like the role they have immersed themselves in, and has gone so deep into the role that they don't lament any Loss of Identity or even remember having been a different person (much less compare that life to the present).
While in this state the character may act against their own interests or those of their allies and loved ones, though a good slap may fix them, or pushing a Berserk Button their normal self would take issue with. If the character had a previous psychological disorder, this may result in temporary Loss of Identity or even forming one or more Split Personalities. In extreme cases it may take Deprograming to bring them back.
This trope can be considered a mundane, non-Phlebotinum version of getting hit with Laser-Guided Amnesia and having Fake Memories implanted.
A Sister Trope to Cannot Tell Fiction from Reality.
Compare with Becoming the Mask, where con men or The Mole who grow to like their assumed identity more than their original one, and also That Man Is Dead, in which the character emphatically rejects his old identity. Compare also Enforced Method Acting, where this is imposed on an actor.
Contrast Brainwashed and Crazy and Split Personality Takeover.
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Anime and Manga
In Yu-Gi-Oh! ZEXAL, Fuya Okudaira, a child actor, is pressured by his Stage Mom to not speak with other children and to focus on his role as D.D. ESPer Robin. While Fuya wants to be friends with other kids, he doesn't want to disappoint his mother. Upon coming across a Numbers card (which amplifies the user's desires, usually to a sinister extent) that takes a form similar to his mother, he begins to believe that he really is D.D. ESPer Robin, and vows to protect his card, No. 83: Galaxy Queen, as he would his own mother.
In Midori Days, Seiji and his Delinquent friends get called upon to play the roles in a movie of the underlings of a character played by Aikawa Shou, their favorite actor. During Shou's tearful death scene, the boys get too worked up, rise up and beat the crap out of the actors playing the guys who killed him. The director decides to Throw It In.
In the Anime Film Perfect Blue Mima confuses scenes from the tv series in which she acts with reality, played for Mind Screw
Back when The Joker had his own comic series in the 1970s, one of the opponents he faced was an actor who had started to believe he actually was Sherlock Holmes.
The post-Zero Hour version of the second Two-Face, Paul Sloane, was reimagined as an actor so involved in method acting that he ended up turning himself into one of Batman's deformed, psychotic rogues while researching a part.
The Vertigo reboot of Human Target made this a key part of Christopher Chance's success. He was so good at impersonating his clients that he actually built himself into their personalities in order to fool whoever was trying to take a swing at them, and required extensive deprogramming once a job was complete.
A combination of the Scarecrow's Fear Gas and the mind-altering System lead Jean-Paul Valley to believe that not only was he Batman, but the one true Batman, going so far as to claim that he was nothing if he couldn't be Batman.
This concept is a metaphorical interpretation of Black Swan. Nina, sweet and a perfect representation of the White Swan, tries so hard to become the Black Swan that she loses herself.
The 1947 Film NoirA Double Life is all about this, where an actor (Ronald Coleman) playing Othello on Broadway finds his life being taken over by the role and eventually follows in the part's footsteps when he murders his mistress.
Deconstructed and parodied in Tropic Thunder by Robert Downey, Jr.'s character. And yes, that quote at the top of the page is serious too, because Robert Downey Jr. stays in character for the actual film's DVD commentary (Although this was an extended joke about the character he played).
According to the sequel comic, Judge Doom of Who Framed Roger Rabbit was originally a Toon actor named Baron Von Rotten, who often played villainous roles (a deleted scene of the movie claimed Doom was the one who shot Bambi's mom). A concussion during a shoot led him to think he really was a villain.
In Bad Education Juan is only pretending to be his dead brother, Ignacio. But in the process, Juan gradually ends up in the exact same situation, such as getting involved with the same men and dressing up as a transvestite.
In a similar effect like the one in Perfect Blue, Nikki Grace from Inland Empire confuses her acting with reality, at a point where is impossible, even for the spectator to tell which is which.
Nikki:Damn... It's sound like dialogue from our script!
Kingsley:Cut, cut it
Kurt Vonnegut's "Who Am I This Time?", featuring an actor who entirely inhabits his roles, because he doesn't really have a personality outside of them. Later adapted to an excellent made-for-TV movie starring Christopher Walken and Susan Sarandon, and directed by Jonathan Demme.
In Robert A. Heinlein's Double Star, the main character is hired to impersonate a kidnapped politician. He becomes so immersed in being this man that after the original is killed, he takes over and actually becomes him. By the end of the book, he's forgotten he was ever anyone else.
It's implied that going to the EDGE of this, is key to Imperial training. However, being away from her handlers has likely hurt her ability to keep from going over the edge.
In the end, it's played with. She purposely becomes lost in the cover identity of 'Kirney Slane'...but only to reclaim something as a 'real her'. She's still aware of Lara, and Gara, but chooses to identify with neither. Lara was a cover identiy, Gara was a bad person. Kirney can be someone new.
Live Action TV
In an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Drusilla uses her psychic talents to appear to Giles as his former lover Jenny Calendar in order to seduce some information from him. She gets so carried away in the role that she continues making out with him for some time after learning what she was after.
For that matter, the actors themselves would do this on more than one occasion. Memorably, Sarah Michelle Gellar was so invested in her character's romance with Angel that when he turns evil and abuses her, in the scene where she runs home and cries she is so broken up they had to close the set for half an hour.
When Faith switches bodies with Buffy, she becomes so enamored with Buffy's heroic lifestyle with true friends looking up to her that she tries to actually act the part. She even becomes convinced that Buffy's mind in her old body is actually evil.
This was parodied in an episode of Community, when Abed told the story of creating and then becoming a character for his walk-on role in Cougar Town.
Danny Pudi filmed a cameo on Cougar Town in reference to this scene. It's glorious.
Arguably a Deconstructed Trope. Abed made up a role for him to play in Cougartown named Chad, and as he made up Chad's backstory in his head, he realized that he had spent all of his life to that point dedicated to pop culture, and Chad had a significantly more fulfilling life than he did. When filming ended and he was forced out of character, he had a mental crash, fell over and shat himself.
Parodied in "Documentary Making: Redux", wherein Jeff is reluctantly cast as the Dean for a short commercial for Greendale and is forced to wear a bald cap over his natural hair. The shoot is only supposed to be for one day, but thanks in part to Jeff's own efforts to try and get out of it it ends up going for almost two weeks — all of which time Jeff is forced to wear his Dean's costume. Over this time Jeff gradually begins to take on several of the Dean's character traits and becomes convinced that he's actually a bald man who "only dreamed of having hair".
This is arguably the super-power of Echo, the protagonist of Dollhouse. Despite repeated memory wipes, she always retains the "imprints" of the other personalities she's assumed.
Possibly Sophie Devereaux in Leverage. She mentions before her sabbatical that she's created so many fake personas she's not really sure what's really her anymore and leaves to bury each of them. This extends so far that we're not sure what her real name is.
This was the plot point in the Monk episode "Mr. Monk and the Actor," when a TV movie was being made about the titular character, starring renowned actor David Ruskin as the titular character. Except, Ruskin has a history of falling too deeply into his roles (for example, once having to spend three months in a rehab clinic after playing an alcoholic in a TV movie, because he managed to have all the symptoms of alcoholism without drinking), and when he portrayed Monk... Afterward, in session with Dr. Kroger, Monk notes that Ruskin has decided to try something less depressing, then adds "He's in England playingHamlet."
An odd example with Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes; he became ill while obsessing over the character - realizing that he was manic depressive allowed him to start overcoming his obsession to the point where he could enjoy playing Holmes. He died eleven years after Sherlock Holmes first aired, and had quit the series entirely the year before his death.
In The Twilight Zone episode "A World of Difference" this is what everybody thinks happened to Gerry Raigan, an alcoholic actor who seems to have snapped and identified too closely with happy executive character Arthur Curtis. He, on the other hand, thinks that he actually is Curtis, trapped in a nightmare world.
On WKRP in Cincinnati, a well-paying job requires Johnny Fever to play an obnoxious, boisterous live event emcee, to the point he actually does begin to lose himself, and becomes frightened this vile character will become him. Twice as interesting for the fact that Johnny Caravella already plays a role as Doctor Johnny Fever - but it is a role he likes. His best friend Gordon Sims tried to lose himself in the role of Venus Flytrap, to escape from the memories of his time in Vietnam. They catch up with him anyway.
In an episode of the 1970s British TV series Colditz, an officer in the World War 2 German prisoner of war camp simulates insanity so that he will be repatriated to Britain, the plan being that he will then reveal himself as sane and return to action. His simulation succeeds only too well - at the end of the episode, the prisoners in Colditz receive a letter from the officer's wife relating that he actually went insane and is now confined to a mental institution. The escape committee then decides that no other prisoner in Colditz is to attempt that ploy.
This was also parodied in a 2009 Garfield strip, with the dialogue as follows;
General on TV: Holy bovines, Corporal! There's a giant monster invading the city!
Soldier on TV: That's not a monster, sir.
General: What are you talking about? Call out the artillery!
Timothy North: So what have you been up to lately?
Rudolph Farnsworth: Oh living each day in delusion thinking fiction is reality. That's me.
Timothy North: Me too.
In an episode of the "Super Chicken" segment of George of the Jungle, an actor portraying a Snidely Whiplash-like character abducted the actress portraying the damsel in distress, making her a real Damsel in Distress.
In the second episode of Ultimate Spider-Man, Agent Coulson is made the new principal at Peter Parker's school, so he can keep an eye on Pete and his friends. Midway through the next episode, he calls Nick Fury, frantically begging for the full power of SHIELD... to help balance the school's budget.
Happens in A Flintstone Christmas Carol, while Fred is busy rehearsing his part of Scrooge and starts acting like a selfish jerk to his family and friends.
The Simpsons has Duffman, whose actor openly admits he has no distinct personality our of his costume anymore and cringes to be called by his real name.
One-shot minor Character Senor Ding-Dong was only a man playing the role of a doorbell company mascot, a Zorro-style hero who fixes doorbells with a whip. Then he just became that character entirely.
This is not unprecedented for practitioners of Method Acting, and can have very real and very negative effects on the actor in question. A good portion of acting training is in fact learning how to avoid this.
The Canadian actor Raymond Massey, best known for his many, many portrayals of Abraham Lincoln on stage, film, and television, eventually became so obsessed with perfecting his performance that he started to assume the vocal and physical mannerisms of Lincoln in day-to-day life, even appearing at social gatherings dressed in Lincoln-esque clothing. A friend said of his obsession, "Massey won't be satisfied until someone assassinates him."
Rumours abounded that Heath Ledger's take on The Joker was at least in part responsible for his death. The Joker's psyche certainly is unsettling, to say the least. His co-stars seem to debunk this theory as they said he seemed really relaxed between takes and on stage, and in no way exhibited behavior that supports this theory.
Andy Griffith noted that he had this problem when playing Lonesome Rhodes in A Face In The Crowd, and it led him to mostly stay away from such roles for the rest of his career.
Combined with the substance abuse issues he had at the time, David Bowie was noted to at least be worried about this happening with some of his stage personas, particularly the unsettling and unpleasant Thin White Duke. This led to him moving away from adopting full characters on stage at around the same time as he pulled himself out of his addiction. To this day, Bowie has stated that he's afraid his Ziggy Stardust character will come back into his mind and drive him completely insane.
Peter Sellers. Directors often described him as "not having any real personality of his own". At one point during an interview, after demonstrating a wide variety of voices and character types, the interviewer asked if he was now speaking in his real voice. After some hesitation, he replied with a confused "I don't know." When Sellers was the guest on The Muppet Show, unlike any other guest on the series, he never appeared on-screen out of character. (During the "five minutes to showtime" intro, he's Inspector Clouseau from The Pink Panther.) This appearance is the source of his famous "There is no me. I do not exist." quote.