Castiel: What's wrong with your vessel?When a demon, ghost, or other body stealing / possessing force takes control of a body, it causes the body to rapidly decay and get the wear and tear of a lifetime over a few days or months. Removing the being isn't a guarantee of undoing the damage, and staying for too long in the same body will likely kill the host before long. This is different from (but may happen in conjunction with) Transformation of the Possessed, which is where a body is changed to resemble (or become) the possessing entities' original body, and tends to be stable. It's more akin to Power Degeneration, and in fact use of superpowers can hasten the decay. This trope applies to both living, dead, and undead bodies; usually living bodies last longer and dead ones decay at a much faster rate, the tradeoff being that corpses don't put up a struggle. Some stories may play with the trope and have undead beings like zombies or vampires or inanimate objects suffering little or no decay, but having dulled senses/finesse.
Lucifer: Yes, um... Nick is wearing a bit thin, I'm afraid. He can't contain me forever.
Lucifer: Yes, um... Nick is wearing a bit thin, I'm afraid. He can't contain me forever.
open/close all folders
Anime & Manga
- In Blue Exorcist Satan is so powerful that there's no body in the regular world can contain him for more than a moment without destroying itself.
- Some very tough people possessed by him will suffer Blood from Every Orifice; most people just catch fire.
- Turns out to be a common issue for his children, the Demon Kings known as the Baal, as well who all suffer from it to some extent or another. Despite being the second most powerful son, Samael aka Mephisto suffers from it the least due to being King of Space and Time, letting him effectively stop the degradation of his body. His elder brother Lucifer is not so lucky.
- Dante from Fullmetal Alchemist; that's the main reason she needs the philosopher's stone since she needs it every time she transfers to a new body. Also it's stated that each body lasts less than the previous one. And since Hohenheim has also swapped bodies at least once, it also happens to him; this is the main reason why he abandoned his family.
- Bachilus in Birdy the Mighty is a parasite that requires a new body to inhabit every so often, due to this possession burnout. We see one of his bodies go to its limit and fall apart, after which he gets a new one, by consuming Geega, his (until then) boss.
- Sailor Moon: Hotaru during the third season. It's not clear how much of this was Mistress 9's influence, given how she was an Ill Girl to begin with, but it's obvious that the possession certainly wasn't helping. Also a relatively rare case where it's implied that, had Hotaru indeed died before Mistress 9's resurrection, Mistress 9 would have died with her. The manga also implied that some of her illness was thanks to burnout on the end of cybernetic parts her father implanted her with.
- Naruto: Orochimaru faces this issue after being forced to transfer into a body. While recovering from the transfer process, his body began to break down and required a constantly escalating regime of medication. Whether this was due to incompatibility or the damage done by the Third Hokage is unclear.
- Claymore: Basic Yoma need to switch bodies quickly before their hosts die from the strain of flawed Awakening, so they force their hosts into extreme hunger for human bodies. It is not known if this type of yoma is actually sentient or just a worm.
- The X-Men villain Proteus "burns out" any body he possesses; by the end stages, his victims look like walking corpses. This was censored in the television adaptation, where it was shown that possession by him caused extreme fatigue instead.
- In Final Crisis, Darkseid's minions are frantically bioengineering new bodies for the New Gods of Apokolips because they destroy the human bodies they possess fairly quickly.
- Supergirl villain Worldkiller-1 burns out any body he possess if his host isn't strong enough to contain his spirit. In Red Daughter of Krypton he possessed a baseline human, and his victim's body melted in a matter of seconds.
- Judge Dredd: When the Dark Judges teamed up with The Joker, their plan involved one of their own possessing the Chief Judge to put out a warrant on Judge Anderson. The thing is, Judge Mortis' primary power is decaying anything he touches, so his host started falling apart within a few hours.
Films — Live-Action
- The Bug Alien from the first Men in Black movie. By the end of the movie he has grey skin, can barely talk or walk. In this case, it has more to do with the bug wearing an "Edgar Suit" made of flayed skin, so it is natural decomposition.
- People possessed by Jason in Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday eventually meld into goo.
- The Egyptian god Horus runs into this problem in Immortal, as he can only successfully possess pure humans unaltered by genetic modification. As most of the humans in 2095 New York are augmented in some way, they eventually die after he takes over their bodies. Nikopol is suitable as a host body precisely because he's still unaltered, having spent time in a Cryo Prison for several decades.
- The Hidden: The reason why the evil alien needs to switch bodies much more frequently than its good counterpart is because of the drastic wear and tear it inflicts on its hosts. When it possesses an old man with a stomach ailment, it actually has trouble keeping it alive and simply covers its wounds with duct tape. It bleeds out within minutes after he ditches it for a younger one.
- H.I.V.E. Series: In the later books, this is what happens to bodies that Overlord possesss via the animus fluid.
- In Harry Potter, Voldemort goes through several host bodies before he can perform a resurrection ritual that gives him a stable new form. He has to resort to things like drinking unicorn blood to keep his hosts alive.
- In the YA Urban Fantasy Book Series beginning with The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, the heads of The Masquerade keep Mezentius House, a hospital/prison for bodies possessed by demons, which basically keeps the demons under control (chained up) until the body decays and dies. However, in the third book, a magician makes a deal with a demon who wants to possess her to share the body alternating days and nights, hoping to stave off this trope.
- In Alan Garner's The Moon of Gomrath, an ancient Celtic demonic entity, the Brollochan, is released form its prison cell by human interference. The Brollochan is an entity that lives vicariously through the senses of people and animals it serially possesses — but no host can contain it for long without burning from the inside and crumbling to death.
- Sir Terry Pratchett's Discworld novel A Hat Full of Sky introduces an entity called the Hiver, which is so alike in description, purpose and occupation to Garner's Brollochan that you might assume Pratchett had read Garner's book in his youth and "borrowed" the idea. (Although Garner says his conception is not original - he has updated it from Celtic mythology. Pratchett may have read the same root sources.)
- Further Discworld example: The Cunning Man, whose rage is so intense that it literally burns out whatever unfortunate person it chooses as a vessel.
- This happens to everyone who's possessed by the ancient evil Tak in the Stephen King novel Desperation. Tak is so powerful that it causes any body it possesses to expand and grow more powerful, but it also amplifies any physical ailments they have. A host with cancer will die within hours, a staph infection in days and even something as simple as being easily sunburned will cause a body's skin to blister and drop off within a week, yet again leading to death. With animals it's even worse: They last an hour at most even if it's a strong, healthy animal. They might even explode.
- In Walter Jon Williams' Metropolitan and City On Fire, there's a type of disembodied spirit called an "iceman", formerly human. It possesses people so it can experience physical sensation again, but because it doesn't belong, everything feels "muted", so it wears its hosts out with physical excess. Sucks to be the host, sucks even more to be the iceman.
- In the Star Wars Expanded Universe, Palpatine's spirit possessing clone bodies made them degenerate really fast, which provided a limit on his resurrections.
- It was later revealed that this was not the case, and that someone had tampered with the genetic sample for Palpatine, which is what actually caused the clone bodies to degrade so quickly. The fresh bodies start to degrade before they are even ready for possession, and Palpatine can't fix it because even the original genetic material used as the template is damaged.
- Played very literally on rare and usually momentous occasions in Perry Rhodan. If a Cosmocrat wishes to pay the "standard" universe a visit and a 'mere' Projected Avatar (already indistinguishable from a normal life-form and potentially quite badass in its own right if challenged) won't suffice, there exists an alternative in which the entity possesses a specially prepared host body, typically drawn from a servant species of physically extremely tough and naturally long-lived cyclopean giants, which allows it to bring a significantly larger portion of its power to bear directly — but which also results in said almost preternaturally durable host body immediately starting to smolder and then burn, held together and kept moving only by the willpower of its possessor. Cosmocrats using this approach will generally arrange to have several spare bodies available because they can go through them fast even in the course of a slightly extended conversation.
- In the Hush, Hush world, it's said that this happens when fallen angels possess humans. This is why they generally aim to possess immortal Nephilim — those bodies don't wear out, so the Nephilim can look forward to an eternity of being possessed.
- This happens to most living people that the eponymous Eight Million Gods inhabit, which is why most of the more benign ones inhabit inanimate objects.
- In A Darker Shade Of Magic, bodies possessed by Vitari gradually char and eventually crumble to ash.
- This happens in Journey to Chaos when high level deities inhabit mortal bodies. Order, for instance, can possess any ordercrafter of sufficient power and piety but they all quickly implode from the strain of his power. Those possessed by Lady Chaos explode or turn into monsters. It turns out that defying this trope is the entire point of the series. Lady Chaos wants a vessel that won't explode when she inhabits it, so she sent Tasio to fetch Eric and mold him into someone who could withstand her power indefinitely.
- In Smallville, any host for a certain Phantom Zone criminal dies in 24 hours. Naturally, a Kryptonian body can withstand it much better, but somehow, trying to possess Clark results in the creation of a new, cloned body (with the same clothes Clark is wearing, too, though the color of his jacket becomes the color of his shirt and vice versa.) He becomes the series' version of Bizarro.
- The demon in the Angel episode Lonely Hearts. It had to keep body jumping because the bodies wore out and died.
- Also Illyria, the initial infestation and death of Fred might count, but then there's also the aftermath-she was wearing out the body and the team had to zap her with a Frickin' Laser Beam to drain some of her power away.
- The Bodysurfing human wizard Marcus from Carpe Noctem can only stay in his host bodies for a short time before they combust, killing the victim. He is pleased to discover that when he possesses an already-undead vampire (Angel), this kind of body is immune from the combustion.
- Exploited in the Doctor Who episode "The Doctor's Wife", wherein the "soul" of the TARDIS is forcibly transferred to a human body — which is reported by its new occupant to be fast falling apart due to its inability to long hold the energy of the TARDIS. This will kill her and leave House unopposed in her true body.
- And in the TV Movie, the Master's stolen human body decays rapidly.
- Happens in Stargate SG-1 when Anubis possesses a host. The host develops sores and various ailments, eventually dying, forcing him to look for a new host. This is because he's not an ordinary Goa'uld (who normally can make their hosts last for centuries) but partially ascended. This is why Anubis used a containment suit instead of a conventional host, until its destruction in the 7th season finale.
- The alien leader Mabus from First Wave was able to possess humans, but the process was often fatal, sometimes within seconds. He eventually realized the host's physical health was unimportant, but rather high intelligence was the key to prolonged survival. The aliens knew that from the start, which is why they initially grew a husk from Cade's DNA, figuring that someone like Cade would definitely be able to contain Mabus's consciousness. His final body is that of Cade and Jordan's son, whose growth was artificially accelerated.
- Demons are the premier example in the series as they can possess people against their will. Any normal wound they receive while possessed is ignored, but once exorcised the wounds take their toll on the host, frequently killing them. It is unclear if there would be any burnout from an injury-free, long-term possession as no such cases arise.
- Angels are so powerful that they will do this to any host that isn't specifically suited to them, doubly so for Archangels. Sam and Dean are the result of generations of breeding to produce viable hosts for Lucifer and Michael. Satan is forced to settle for his "second choice", and as the page quote shows, his raw power caused the host to slowly decay/burn despite the large amount of demon blood he was drinking. The implication is that any other host would be vaporized outright. Even Sam isn't fully immune to this, and has to drink a couple of gallons of demon blood to survive Satan first possessing him. Whether or not he had to keep drinking it is never made clear, as the issue is resolved before long. Even Raphael's true vessel is left catatonic after being his possession. It may just be he didn't care to heal him, as Michael promises Dean he wouldn't leave him a "drooling mess" after possessing him. Bloodline are also important, and can help avert this. Michael's chosen host was Dean, but he at one point possess John Winchester, and later uses Adam (Dean's half brother) when it becomes apparent he can't use Dean.
- The Leviathans' combined power is too much for their first host Jimmy after they booted out/killed Castiel forcing them to disperse.
- In an episode of Lois & Clark, a man switches bodies with Clark. Soon after, the Kryptonian's body starts becoming vulnerable.
- Zyuden Sentai Kyoryuger: After losing Utsusemimaru as a host, Animated Armor villain Dogold is forced to use Cambrimas. Unfortunately for him, they only last a month, forcing him to keep moving on to a new Cambrima when the current one perishes. They melt when he leaves them. His goal for some time is getting Utchy back, then it's finding a new host. Eventually, the new general Endorf makes an ass of himself once too often, and so once weakened by King's Super Mode, Dogold kills two birds with one stone, getting rid of him and getting an even stronger host than Utsusemimaru.
- In the TOS Star Trek episode "Return To Tomorrow", when the consciousness of Sargon and the other two aliens take over the bodies of Kirk, Spock, and Dr. Mulhall, their metabolic and heart rates shoot up to dangerous levels.
- In an episode of Blood Ties, the disembodied spirit of a cop Vicki knows visits her and asks her to investigate his death. In fact, she finds out that his body is still walking around. Her assistant figures out that her friend's body has been taken over by an ancient entity that Body Surfs every few days because of this trope. By the time they force the entity out of the body and destroy it, the cop's body is too far gone, and he dies minutes later.
- In The Flash, when DeVoe starts Body Surfing through the bus metas, it turns out that his incredible intelligence starts doing the same kind of damage to these bodies as it did to his original one, which isn't helped by him constantly adding new powers to his repertoire.
- Dungeons & Dragons:
- The Monster Manual III, introduces the Effigy, a fiery undead spirit that literally immolates its host.
- The AD&D 2E psionics supplement includes a power called Switch Personality that enables its user to literally exchange minds with another, effectively possessing them. However, both swapped bodies degenerate over time (represented as a temporary Constitution loss per skill check failure) unless the caster switches back to their original body; if either body hits 0, both are doomed. A creative player, though, could just swap to a creature with no Constitution score, hence auto-passing the skill check!
- Forgotten Realms has deities very strongly involved in the world's affairs. They are known to possess people sometimes, but can't keep the body in a good shape for long even in the perfect circumstances — it's simply Too Much for Man to Handle.
- In the backstory, Elue Silverhand voluntarily got possessed by Mystra, in order to give birth to the innately semi divine Seven Sisters. Her husband noticed that something very unhealthy was going on, and with an expert's help managed to determine that "some very powerful entity" was riding her, but not who — naturally, if the goddess of magic tries to keep a personal secret, everything else is down to guess-work. Since nothing else was working, Dornal decapitated his wife to "free" her from the possession. From this point it all got more awkward for everyone involved, of course.
- In Warhammer 40,000, this happens to daemonhosts, along with (and partly because of) the Transformation of the Possessed.
- Deadlands: Hell on Earth inverts the trope; the cyborgs are robotized dead bodies possessed by demons, which are being used as fuel for the mechanical body.
- Vampire: The Requiem: The strix can possess mortals just as well as vampires, but possessing a mortal outright kills the host, which means the body doesn't really keep all that well.
- Zato-1 from Guilty Gear is an assassin who relies on a shadowy beast named Eddie possessing his body to help him fight. Until he died. In the newer installments, Eddie has to deal with controlling Zato's decaying corpse in combat until he can find a new host. This is also a case of Real Life Writes the Plot, as it was the way the creative team found to write around Kaneto Shiozawa's death, as he voiced Zato-1.
- In FEAR 3, when you're controlling Fettel, you can only possess a body for a while before it explodes and you're expelled. You also destroy the body if you willingly leave it.
- In Jedi Academy, the Light Side ending has an ancient spirit possessing the villain with the help of an ancient artifact. Once the artifact is destroyed and the spirit leaves... there is nothing left.
- Mass Effect:
- In the first game, Saren's corpse is possessed by Sovereign, burning away all tissue until only the cybernetic components remained.
- Mass Effect 2; while there's no gameplay consequences, the fact that Harbinger-possessed Collectors crumble into ash on their defeat while regular ones leave corpses suggests that there's something like this going on. Also notable is that their health bar is replaced with an armor bar, indicating they're no longer really alive. Collectors are implanted with Reaper tech, that allows Harbinger to override their nervous systems, effectively driving the implants into overdrive. As Shepard wears them down, the implants work harder to keep the Collector alive, until they burn out, taking the corpse with them.
- Extended Leviathan channelling in the DLC of the same name can be seriously bad for your health. Passive control seems to be sustainable indefinitely, with one area being under Leviathan control for ten years, but when they actually speak through you it can cause serious damage quickly, as Ann Bryson will demonstrate if you take the Renegade interrupt. Even if you don't, and she's saved, it's pretty much explicit in her War Asset writeup that she sustained a bit of damage, although most of her faculties are intact.
- In Messiah, whenever Bob possesses someone, that person's physical health is drained to replenish Bob's own health.
- In Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, Dracula can possess people by sneaking up behind them and turning into blood that enters his victims' orifices. His hosts can barely do anything but move slowly as their health slowly deteriorates.
- The Body Snatcher race known as the Ing in Metroid Prime 2: Echoes usually possess hosts with little trouble, though it is apparently a power that requires a little practice according to Samus's scan notes. Younger Ing sometimes form imperfect possessions that cause permanent damage to the host form. Ing can also possess fresh corpses, but the bodies are still dead so they are slow and zombie-like. If inexperienced Ing bite off more than they can chew and try to possess powerful creatures, the creature can reject them or even kill them from within. The Space Pirates figured this out and began to look into how to prevent possession, though it mainly devolved into Unfriendly Fire or suicide.
- In Dishonored, Corvo has the ability "Possession" which can be used on either animals or humans, neither of which respond kindly to the process. Animals die once the possession ends (with some, like rats, winding up as Ludicrous Gibs), while humans puke their guts out.
- Individuals unlucky enough to be possessed by Michael Roa Valdamjong in Tsukihime die instantly once he leaves and possesses the next body. The only exception to this rule is Ciel, who somehow managed to survive and gained all the advantages of Complete Immortality as a result.
- Fate/stay night:
- Zouken Matou is constantly suffering from this. His method of prolonging life is by possessing and molding other bodies by filling them with worms, but each body lasts less than the previous one, and by the time the game starts, he can only remain in a body for a few months at most. It's revealed that this has less to do with the degenerating quality of his stolen bodies, but rather the fact that his very soul is decaying. This is why he wants the Holy Grail, as it can allow him to achieve immortality not through a wish, but through its true function, the creation of the Third Magic.
- In the Heaven's Feel route, Shirou is implied to be suffering from this. Having Archer's left arm grafted onto him grants him Archer's stronger projection magic, but various scenes imply that Archer is actually still alive through the arm and dominating Shirou's mind whenever his powers are called upon (making this a case of Powers via Possession). Because Servants have much heavier souls than normal humans, Shirou suffers from backlash whenever he uses the arm - eventually, when he uses it too much in a small time frame, it inflicts brain damage and causes swords to start growing out from under his skin, and in one Bad End Shirou outright becomes a vegetable due to using it too much too quickly. Even right after he receives the arm, Rin and Kirei need to put a magical seal on it to prevent it from causing this trope due to merely being attached to his body.
- In Gunnerkrigg Court, Whitelegs' possession of Jack Hyland gradually degrades his sanity and is very taxing, but it's not clear whether it is harmful on its own, because it "enhances" him enough to manifest Powers via Possession, or simply because he never sleeps all this time. When the possession ends, he instantly collapses, though later gradually recovers.
- SCP Foundation: SCP-035 is a malevolent comedy mask that takes control of anyone who wears it. The host bodies don't last long since they undergo accelerated decomposition until they become mummified corpses. SCP-035 has expressed interest in SCP-682, since 682's regenerative powers could theoretically allow the mask to use it as a permanent host. The Foundation of course is keeping them separated at all costs.
- In Noob: La Quête Légendaire, Dortös implies this applies to his Grand Theft Me victims to an extent, due to talking about using his first host until his ressources run out. It however seems to be slow enough that he can actively search for a more compatible host and the video-game context implies his Player Character host will get out of it with lower Hit Points rather than outright dead.
- In The Legend of Korra, Wan wanted to be able to bend multiple elements to fight Vaatu. The Lion Turtle explained to him that humans lack the energy needed to bend more than one element at a time. To get around this problem, Wan allowed himself to fuse with Raava every time he needed to bend multiple elements. Holding a spirit and its extra power inside his body was extremely dangerous. Raava warned Wan that if she stayed inside him for too long he would die. In the end they solve the problem by making the fusion between their spirits permanent by tapping into the Harmonic Convergence , starting the Avatar Cycle.