- The "ghost's" body merely lies in a Convenient Coma, but they don't know that and fervently believe themselves to be actually dead (especially if they Never Found the Body). A soul-body reunion in the end can help avoid what would otherwise become a Downer Ending.
- A Haunted House turns out to be the one a character always sees in their dreams... because they are the one haunting it.
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Anime and Manga
- In Natsuneko's Blue Line, the ghost of Yuria's "dead" little sister Yui turns out to be her out-of-body experience while her body lies in coma in the nearby hospital.
- Koichi in Digimon Frontier is stated by Crusadermon to only be a ghost. Since the Digital World runs on Narnia Time, his body back in the human world hasn't died yet.
- Mavis Vermillion in Fairy Tail is eventually revealed to be an astral projection rather than a spirit like most of Fairy Tail thought. In fact, she's actually an immortal trapped inside of a Lacrima crystal for nearly 100 years using the projection to interact with her guild. And that's just the first part of revelations about the character in question.
- In Kara no Kyoukai, the ghostly antagonist of the first chapter/movie turns out to be an out-of-body experience of a bedridden, blind girl named Fujou Kirie.
- A minor character in The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service uses her astral form to impersonate a ghost to make the inhabitants of an apartment think it's haunted.
- In Mob Psycho 100, a ghost peeking at one of the clients through the window turns out to be an astral projection of a psychic.
- A girl in Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit ends up this way after drinking wine with a magical flower in it.
- Happens to Ash Ketchum and Pikachu in the Pokémon episode "The Tower of Terror" (which infamously spent a few years off the airwaves due to its title alone) after getting struck by a falling chandelier. As the three Ghost Pokemon show them what it's like to be ghosts, Ash befriends Haunter and, after being reunited with his body, asks him to help him against Sabrina back at Saffron City.
- In the midst of all the actual ghosts in Psychic Detective Yakumo, one apparent ghost turns out to be the projected spirit of a terminally ill but still-living girl, whose anxiety about her impending death causes her to project her spirit to other people at night while she's sleeping.
- Psycho Busters: The hero initially mistakes the astral projection of one of his soon to be allies for a ghost. A sexy naked ghost.
- Sunday Without God has Cute Ghost Girl Dee, however, while Ai initially believes she's dead, she's actually alive, and the reason she appears as a ghost is because her physical body is trapped by the seal over Ostia, the "Groundhog Day" Loop created by her classmates of Class 3-4, and while within the seal she has a physical body.
- Given how often Doctor Strange uses Astral Projection, this sort of thing is inevitable. As a master of the art, he never mistakes astral forms for spirits of the deceased, and he has to make a conscious effort to render himself visible to normal sight. When he does so, other (non-mystic) characters will often refer to his astral form as his 'creepy ghost.' He uses this effect on one occasion to convince a bank robber he will be haunted forever unless he releases his hostages and surrenders. It works . . . apparently the "criminals are a superstitious and cowardly lot" trope is not franchise-specific.
- Harry Potter does this in the Dangerverse fics.
- Sanctuary is a The World Ends with You AU fic, where it is eventually revealed that Shiki is in a coma, rather than dead as everyone had assumed.
- Team Rocket Roots: It turns out that Miya is not-quite-but-almost-dead. She's been in a coma in the Andes mountains for twenty years. Only due to the help of Espeon and Mew is Miya still alive. Prior to the start of the comic, Mew gave her one last chance to see her now-grown daughter Jessie and help her. After she finishes her Unfinished Business, Miya's physical body finally dies.
- Ghost Dad involves Bill Cosby's character, apparently a ghost, actually being in a coma at the end. His daughter also becomes a ghost after being knocked unconscious, albeit briefly. The ability is said to be genetic.
- If I Stay features this as part of the premise. The main character is a gifted young cellist who is being forced to choose between studying at Julliard and staying home to foster a relationship with her rock guitarist boyfriend. Then she and her family is involved in a bad car crash, and the girl becomes an astral projection unwillingly while her body lies in a coma. Nobody can see or hear her, but she can overhear conversations between other people, and her choice becomes whether or not she will fight to continue living, or allow herself to die.
- In Just Like Heaven, it turns out that Elizabeth (Lauren in the book) is actually in a coma, and the protagonists have to get her 'ghost' back into her body before the hospital takes her off life support.
- Poledra in The Belgariad appears occasionally as a ghost to aid the main characters, having died in childbirth some three thousand years previously. At the end of the Malloreon, she reveals she never really died at all, but faked it in order to carry out a vague plan to help uphold The Prophecy.
- For part of Sean Williams's Changeling trilogy, the protagonist is assisted by the ghost of a friend who he thinks he saw die; later, he learns that she survived, but has been in a coma ever since, and is able to restore her.
- Subverted in Darkest Powers. Liz is in denial over her death and believes that she is an astral projection because she can move objects. It turns out she is dead but activated her Puberty Superpower - telekinesis - posthumously.
- The Dresden Files:
- André Maurois' short story "The House". A woman repeatedly dreams of a house. One day she finds the house she's been dreaming of but the people who live there are frightened of her. When she dreamed of the house she appeared there as a ghost. The story was made into a segment of the Night Gallery show.
- Dennis Wheatley's The Ka of Gifford Hillary sees this happen to the title character. The fact he isn't a ghost - he's been prematurely buried and he is trying to alert people to this - is the beginning of his woes.
- This is the plot of James Herbert's Nobody True... at first. As soon as we get to know the main character properly it becomes an inverted example; he comes back from one of his out-of-body experiences to discover that someone has murdered him in his bed while he was otherwise occupied, and spends the rest of the book trying to figure out who did it and why.
- Given a twist in Rokujyouma no Shinryakusha!?, where Cute Ghost Girl Sanae turns out to be a mass of spiritual energy that split off from a powerful psychic and was concentrated enough to retain her personality and appearance. In book 11 she and the human Sanae are forced to recombine, after which she acts like the timid "Sanae-san" around family and the energetic "Sanae-chan" around her friends. She still takes on Sanae-chan's younger appearance while astrally projecting, though in later books she learns how to leave Sanae-san behind in her body as a Literal Split Personality.
- Neal Shusterman's Skinjacker Trilogy (Everlost, Everwild, and Everfound)]] has this as a plot point.
- The protagonist of Strong Spirits fears he's trapped as a ghost when he returns from an astral foray and can't find his body. Luckily, his friend stops the authorities from autopsying the "corpse" long enough for him to track it down.
- The ghost in The Time of the Ghost by Diana Wynne Jones turns out to be one of these.
- In the Towers Trilogy, Xhea is tasked with dealing with a ghost, Shai, who claims that she is not dead, only sleeping. Xhai initially thinks Shai is just in denial, but soon notices that she is different from ordinary ghosts. Shai is in fact technically still alive, just separated from her body. She later becomes an actual ghost once her body dies.
- In The 4400 episode "Audrey Parker's Come and Gone", the title character suffers from a variation of this. Her 4400 ability is to astral project, but while she's on one of her projections, she's murdered. Her disembodied self is able to persist for a little while outside of her body, allowing her to act as a "ghost" who communicates through machines.
- In a sketch on The Benny Hill Show Benny plays a man who literally dreams of going out partying at night, getting away from his harridan of a wife. Then one day he's out in the daytime he happens by the very same place he goes in his dreams. Amazed, he knocks on the door. A bunch of women answer.
Lead woman: You can't come in here!
Benny: Why not?
Woman: This place is haunted!
Benny: [dismissive] Who by?
- In Constantine a spirit possessing children and killing their parents for the last few decades was originally believed to be the spirit of a dead child. While it was indeed a child's spirit, they weren't dead. After killing his abusive parents, his soul was unable to stand to trauma and fled his body, leaving it in a catatonic state. At the end of the episode his soul and body were reunited in a high security psych ward where he'll receive some much needed counseling.
- Doctor Who:
- In "Day of the Daleks", the ghosts the Doctor is asked to investigate turn out to be time-travelers from the 22nd Century making "an unstable transfer" into the 20th. (The rebels need a "stable point" which exists in both 20th and 22nd centuries. Auderley House no longer exists in their time, but a nearby tunnel does.)
- In "Army of Ghosts", the ghosts appearing all over the world are actually an army of Cybermen trying to come to Earth from their home dimension.
- An elderly woman on Fringe believes that she's seeing the ghost of her dead husband in her apartment. What she's really seeing is her husband's double in another universe. As a widower, he's having much the same experience.
- At least one episode of Ghost Whisperer featured this; a "ghost" turns out to be a hiker who was in a coma and occasionally flatlining, during which times he was able to appear to Melinda. Eventually he prevents the doctors from reviving him so that he could become a full ghost in order to help Melinda save his brother.
- In a 2 episode arc on Haven, Nathan vanishes into thin air and discovers that he is a "ghost", along with several other people (the show has had ghosts before, so this is not that unbelievable). However, as time passes Audrey figures out that they are not ghosts, instead they are a result of someone's Trouble which can turn people (that she takes a picture of) intangible and invisible.
- Korean drama Let's Fight, Ghost uses the trope for a mid-series twist when it turns out that rather than being dead, Hyun-ji has actually been in a coma for the past five years. Unfortunately for her budding romance with Bong-Pal, when she awakens she has no memory of anything that transpired while she was a "ghost".
- Zig Zagged Trope in The Magicians. Penny astral projects out of his body shortly before he dies and becomes something similar to a ghost. He meets another Traveler who did the same thing and thinks he's a ghost, but Penny points out that since they both astral projected, they're on the astral plane. The waters get further muddied when Penny's body is burned and he eventually ends up working in the Underworld branch of the Library.
- Soap ended with many plot threads hanging, including Jessica about to be shot by a firing squad in Central America. Next season, she shows up on spinoff Benson as a ghost which only Benson can see. But then she finds out she's not really dead, she's just in a coma in a Central American hospital.
- Played with in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Geordi and Ro wander the halls of the Enterprise thinking they're dead, but in reality they're under the influence of an experimental Romulan phasing cloak that makes them invisible and intangible.
- One of the hauntings dealt with in Supernatural some time in season three turns out to not be a spirit, but the projection of a girl in a coma.
- Korean Drama Who Are You? is an I See Dead People story about a cop who wakes up from a six-year coma and finds out that she can now see ghosts, who give her help in solving their murders. But episode 13 establishes that she can also see the astral projections of people in comas. That quickly becomes plot-relevant when her old boyfriend, believed to have been killed in the stakeout-gone-bad that put her in a coma, is revealed to have also been in a coma for all these years.
- In one episode of The X-Files, a quadruple amputee was using astral projection to commit a series of murders.
- In Japanese folklore, a person with intense feelings of love or hatred towards another could succumb to a spiritual affliction known as iki-ryou, the dreaded "ghost of the living", where their soul would leave their body and haunt the person he/she loves or hates, (un)willingly inflicting some curse in the process. (The soulless body would weaken and eventually die if left in this condition too long.)
- In the Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz's Dziady, part II shows a ritual where villagers summon souls from the Purgatory to hear of their plight and help them. At the end, a spectre shows up which doesn't speak a word, and ignores all commands to leave. In part III, the leader of the ritual speculates that it was the soul of someone still living, accidentally summoned.
- In a famous Urban Legend, a woman has a recurring dream where she is wandering around a strange house. One day while she is driving she sees that house with a for-sale sign out front. She goes in to look at and finds out that it is extremely underpriced. When she asks the realtor why, the realtor says the house is haunted, but she doesn't have to worry about that, because she is the one who is haunting it!
- In Geist, protagonist John Raimi spends most of the game as a ghost after his body and soul are separated at the start of the game. His empty body ends up being hijacked by a demon.
- In the second level of Ghost Hunter, there are some strange ghosts which the capture grenade does not work on. Later on you find out that they are astral projections of the local hillbillies.
- Tiffany in Eerie Cuties Chapter 6 was accidentally stabbed with a sword in the gut and became a "ghost", a little too freaked out to notice lack of visible bleeding. Later a vampire bite ("No sense letting a good meal go to waste!") snapped her back into her own body. Of course, this only means Tiff switched to mistaking herself for a vampire until she was told about the "astral projection sword" at the end of next chapter.
- In Poppy O'Possum a monastery is attacked by a dragon during a school field trip, at one point a monk checks in on where the kids were hiding using astral projection and is mistaken for a ghost. Then the dragon kills his body, making him an actual ghost.
- In Adventure Time, Jake is being visited by the ghost of his father in a dream, when his brother shows up. Jake is disturbed because of how this means that his brother is dead, but his brother laughs it off and tells him he's just astral projecting.
- In Jackie Chan Adventures, when Jade activated the talisman that enables astral projection, she initially thought she was dead.