Quite simply— When a character's life seems to 'jump'. They are at work and then suddenly they are at home, with no memories of what happened in between. Sometimes the memories will come back in the form of flashbacks
This can happen for many reasons— memory damage
, aliens, trauma
, or multiple personalities
, just to name a few.
Truth in Television
, black outs, that is alcohol-induced amnesia, have let many people hear great stories about themselves after they woke up in completely different places for decades. Also occurs in those that have Dissociative Identity Disorder, waking up to find themselves in different places then they originally were doing something completely different from what they last returned.
What Did I Do Last Night?
is the lighter and/or more comedic version of this trope, usually related to drinking too much (see also Binge Montage
). See also Alternate Identity Amnesia
, a supernatural cause for Missing Time.
Differs from other amnesia tropes in that only a few minutes or hours goes missing.
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Anime & Manga
- In Lupin III: Sweet Lost Night,note Lupin loses 12 hours, waking up in the middle of a busy street, with Fujiko complaining that he betrayed her. Half of the movie deals with Lupin trying to figure out what had happened in these twelve hours, and what to do if it happens again.
- It's implied that this happens to Bakura in Yu-Gi-Oh! whenever he gets possessed by his dark side. It's very obvious that this is the case when Yami Bakura suddenly relinquishes control during his duel with Yugi in the second season. Poor Bakura is completely bewildered, having suddenly woken up on top of a blimp with a bleeding arm, with apparently no idea how he got there and why. Also, this happened to Yugi during the early volumes of the manga whenever he got possessed by the puzzle.
- In Trigun, Vash the Stampede has a bit of a problem with this whenever his more high-level powers get unlocked, until he learns to do it on purpose. Since both this incidents involve psychic powers being used to make him blow up a city with his right arm, which transforms into a BFG for the purpose, it's unclear whether the cause of these gaps is the psychic trauma, the emotional trauma, or the physiological trauma. Or the combination.
- Anya in Code Geass suffers from this periodically, and has made it a habit of keeping a blog of pictures from her daily activities so she knows what she has been doing. This is revealed to be a result of Marianne actively possessing her body, during which Anya has no memories.
- In Animal Man #19, the title character, as he gradually approaches Medium Awareness, wonders why his life seems so episodic and fragmentary:
What if we're just characters
and not people? [...] A few months ago, or maybe it was a year or more, my wife was attacked and almost raped in the woods. There were four guys. What happened to them? [...] Why was there no trial? [...] Why is my life so...so disconnected? One minute I'm at home, the next I'm in the Faroe Islands or in Paris and I think I remember how I got there but I don't really know.
- Dave in Brainbent experiences this, and in one particularly frightening instance cuts his hand while home alone and then loses time, meaning he could have bled to death and not even known it.
- Evan in The Butterfly Effect loses time when he uses Mental Time Travel to go back to events in his childhood.
- In Inception, this is one of the signs you're in a dream: you can't remember how you got into a particular situation.
- Mentioned in the beginning of Fight Club (Both book and movie). This is later explained in The Reveal.
- In Hangover, the main characters awake in the daytime after taking a group drink at night on top of a Las Vegas hotel. Finding out what happened, including finding the missing character, is the main thrust of the movie.
- Adam Sandler's Click had this happen when the main character used his magic remote to "fast forward" himself past things he didn't like. He got put on autopilot while he did so.
- In Like Flint. While playing golf with the U.S. President, Z.O.W.I.E. chief Lloyd Cramden uses his stopwatch to time the President's golf swing. When he checks the watch, he finds that the swing took 3 minutes. His investigation of the missing 3 minutes leads to the discovery of a plan to take control of the minds of women all over the world and put a nuclear sword of Damocles in orbit around the Earth.
- Aaron Stampler in Primal Fear mentions that he "loses" time over his childhood. This is explained as his alter-ego taking over during times of stress.
- This is something that the title character must deal with in the domestic drama Regarding Henry, starring Harrison Ford. When Henry survives a gunshot wound to the head, the resulting pinched artery affects his memory. Cue the rest of the movie depicting him coming to terms with not remembering anything about his life before the shot.
- This happens to Eddie in Limitless when he starts taking too much NZT.
- Robert A. Heinlein's novella "The Unpleasant Profession Of Jonathan Hoag"
- In The Wheel of Time, Mat Cauthon stumbles into a town that has been inexplicably cursed with a very specific form of societal breakdown: everyone loses control over himself at sundown, kills other people and is killed, then wakes up in his bed with no memory of what just happened. Every. Single. Night. When people try to leave, or kill themselves, they just wake up in bed the next morning.
- In Lois Duncan's Down a Dark Hall, the girls in the school are possessed by ghosts randomly, and they have don't remember anything that happens while possessed.
- This is apparently what Ginny's possession in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets looked like from her end, based on her account from three books later: "When he did it to me, I couldn't remember what I'd been doing for hours at a time. I'd find myself somewhere and not know how I got there."
- Under the Volcano is a stream-of-consciousness novel from the point of view of several characters. One of them is a severely sodden alcoholic, and his sections contain much confusion and some unexpected leaps in time.
- Short story "Sign Among the Stars". Mike and Molly Carson are at a military Research Base when Battle Stations is sounded and "Emergency Plan X" is activated. They're told to go home and they start to do so, but then lose control of their minds. They wake up the next morning having no memory of what happened. They're told that Emergency Plan X involves broadcasting a hypnoray to all children in the area that mesmerises them and makes them go home as quickly as possible.
- In the Star Trek: Millennium trilogy, it's revealed that neither Odo, Quark nor Garak can recall what happened the night of the Cardassian withdrawal from Terok Nor. It's a classic case of missing time. Quark is the only one who will admit it, though. His attempt to find answers irritates Odo and Garak, who refuse to discuss or acknowledge that they're in the same situation.
- One of the first things that clues the protagonists of False Memory off that something's wrong is small episodes of missing time. Eventually, they figure out that time was used by their psychiatrist to brainwash them, implanting phobias and using them as toys and tools.
- Bone Dance starts the plot with its protagonist, Sparrow, coming up from the latest of several inexplicable episodes of missing time. It eventually develops that one of a group of legendary Body Snatchers known as the Horsemen has been taking Sparrow's body for a ride.
- William Prior of The Regeneration Trilogy spends part of the second volume suffering from PTSD-induced memory loss that's developing into borderline Dissociative Identity Disorder. One of the few fictional works to address the fact just how absolutely terrifying this must be from the sufferer's perspective.
- Suffered by Dave at one point in John Dies at the End.
- In Galaxy of Fear, Tash once hits her head. Her memory of the past hour or so becomes blurry, so she has some doubt about if she's a Tomato in the Mirror.
Live Action TV
- In Medium Alison is possessed by a ghost which causes her to not have any memories while the ghost is in control.
- Eli Stone gets this in the first season finale, which is how he realizes he's in a coma-induced hallucination.
- Happens to Donna in an episode of Doctor Who where she's stuck in a virtual reality. Though in her case, time really DOES jump, and people just tell her that it's her memory.
- Happens to one of the vict—- patients of the week.
- Happens in the Season 2 finale when House himself, while walking down a stairs, realizes he can't remember what happened between being in his office and walking down the stairs. Some have interpreted this as House gaining temporary Medium Awareness, as the show cuts directly from the office to the stairs; the interim is not depicted.
- Sometimes happens in association with UFOs and other phenomena in The X-Files. In the first episode, Mulder is ecstatic when he and Scully lose nine minutes while investigating alien abductions.
- Happens to Sharon Valerii onboard the Battlestar Galactica, when her Cylon programming kicks in, leading to her sabotage the ship's water tanks without realising it.
- Happens to Dr. Brennan on Bones, after she gets attacked by a criminal of the week and framed for murder. She believes it's some sort of mental effect naturally, while Booth thinks it's voodoo at work.
- Happens to Fred Ade-Williams in Season 4 of Tinsel.
- In an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation Riker gets infected by an amnesia-inducing virus and comes to 16 years later with no memory of the previous decade and a half, during which time he's become captain of the Enterprise, married, and had a son. Subverted when this turns out to be a Faked Rip Van Winkle orchestrated by a lonely alien boy.
- Happens a few other times on TNG (at least!). Once, Riker and others are sedated at night, pulled into an alternate dimension, operated on, and returned before morning, causing them to wonder where the night went, and why they're so tired. Happened to Data as well during the day, which helped the crew realize something was wrong.
- Happens again to the Crew of the Enterprise-D in Clues, they find that a whole day seems to be missing and Data is acting very strangely and disobeying orders.
- In Hannibal Will Grahams starts losing time as his mental health deteriorates. He's even more disturbed to discover that during these periods he acts so much like he normally does that an entire team of experienced FBI workers didn't notice anything wrong the first time. It turns out the real reason is physical neurological damage due to encephalitis, but Hannibal makes him believe it's purely psychological.
- Dream Theater's song "Losing Time" mentions this, as it is about Multiple Personalities.
- Classic Traveller Adventure 4 Leviathan. While on a data sweep in the Outrim Void, a member of the Scouts found himself on his ship heading at full jump toward his home base with no memory of how he got there and burned out flight recorders. He was the victim of psionic humans who really like their privacy.
- In Fate/stay night, Heaven's Feel route, Shirou starts suffering this after unsealing Archer's arm.
- The title character of Alan Wake loses a week after his wife's apparent death, during which he wrote the manuscript pages he finds around the gameworld, at the prompting of the Big Bad, who planns to make them come true.
- Genocider Syo, the famous serial killer in Dangan Ronpa, experiences this. Why? Because she's really the second personality of Touko Fukawa, who kills whenever Touko blacks out or sneezes. Poor kid.
- This was how Mondo Oowada killed Chihiro, even though they immediately knew what they had done from the body lying on the floor at their feet.
- This happens quite frequently to the characters of Marble Hornets when they are exposed to elements of the supernatural. Most notable are Jay, who loses seven months of his memory after running at the Operator; Jessica, who also loses her memory around the same time as Jay; and Tim, who frequently wakes up in unknown places with huge gaps in his memory as a result of his masked persona taking over. The other members of the Marble Hornets cast also get this, to varying degrees.
- Happens in Brennus to the main character and his sister. Doesn't help that they forget that they've forgotten things, and need someone to talk about what they were doing to even realise they don't remember it.
- This is a common trait of UFO accounts.
- Missing Time can result from much consumption of alcohol, use of drugs, or being under general anesthesia during surgery.
- However, enough booze to make it happen is enough booze for alcohol poisoning to take place. Some people find the person they're asking "What Did I Do Last Night?" has wings...
- This can also be an effect of hypnotism or other altered mental states.
- Trauma to the brain can induce amnesia in retrograde (the inability to remember some events prior to the blow) or anterograde (the inability to form new memories) form. Both are forms of time elapsing without people having any memory of it. Severe anterograde amnesia can result in Missing Time from the time of the event until whenever now is. If new memories can't be formed, then you just woke up in the hospital five minutes ago... forever. Seems like And I Must Scream to us, but the sufferer would never know.
- A minor case of this can happen if you walk/travel to school/work and back home every day. While the things you do at school/work and at home are usually not the exact same every day, the walks/travels can easily be extremely similar from day to day. At a point, the walk/travel may be so ingrown of a habit that you some day realize "hey, I thought I only just left my home, but I'm already at work" because you did the travel with pure muscle memory (it is especially likely to happen if it's early morning and you're too tired to pay attention to your surroundings).