This trope is when a mother, in a delusion, thinks that a doll is her child. It can be caused by guilt due to Parental Abandonment, trauma or artificial means. But no matter the means, the result is that the mother treats a doll as her child. If the real child is still around, she may treat him as an impostor, for added irony and sadness. The best-case scenario is that the mother is so wrapped up that she doesn't even realize that her real child is standing in front of her, and she thinks that the child is a stranger.
Compare Egg Sitting. Not a case of Artificial Human. Replacement Goldfish are different, as the original child may still live, or may not exist at all. Also, being a Lonely Doll Girl or Living Doll Collector is not this.
There is some Truth in Television here, as there are women who purchase lifelike baby dolls and treat them as if they were real babies. Super realistic baby dolls (such as the famous Reborn line) are seen as sweet by some, spooky by others; they have therapeutic value for women who have miscarried, and elderly women in nursing homes (particularly memory-care units or dementia wards).
- Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind: Kushana's mother took a poisoned drink intended for her daughter, resulting in her going mad. At their last meeting before Kushana left for war, she was treating a doll as her child and trying to protect it from unseen enemies.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion: The contact experiment with Unit-02 fractured Kyoko Zeppelin Soryu's psyche and led to her belief that a doll was her daughter, Asuka, while ignoring the real Asuka and referring to her as "the girl over there". Due to her psychotic nature, she decapitated at least one of the dolls and then committed a Murder-Suicide with another. A young Asuka discovered the latter when she was about to tell her mom that she was the next pilot for Unit-02.
- Overlord (2012): Albedo's sister Nigredo is a Stringy-Haired Ghost Girl cradling a doll serving as a layer of security for Nazerick, who reacts to intruders to realizing the doll isn't her child and rushing them with a nasty-looking pair of scissors. She's bypassed by giving her a new doll and claiming it's her child.
"It's wrong, it's wrong, it's wrong, it's wrong... my baby, my baby, my baby—! You, you, you, you, took, took, took, took, my baby, my baby, my baby, my baby—!"
- School-Live!: After having a nervous breakdown, Yuuri "discovers" her little sister at an overrun kindergarten. Absolutely no one is surprised when it's revealed that her "sister" is a teddy bear.
- In Supergirl story arc The Untold Story of Argo City, Alura is taking so badly being separated from her daughter that she steals a robot-doll who looks right like Kara and starts treating her as her precious daughter until her husband Zor-El and her doctor force her to snap out of her delusion and give the doll back.
- Wonder Woman:
- In Wonder Woman (2006) the Amazons were not allowed to have children, but were permitted to carve little dolls out of wood to stem the loneliness. Some went a little too far, resulting in this trope, and Hippolyta's Knight Templar bodyguards would kill the "obviously" slipping Amazon.
- Diana herself. When Hippolyta prayed for a child, the goddesses/Aphrodite (depending on continuity) told her to create a statue and then brought it to life.
- When She Smiles (Fresh C): Due to severe trauma suffered during the Third Impact, Asuka has lost their memories and has deluded herself into believing "Asuka Langley Sohryu" is a doll she must take care of. She reacts violently when anybody tries to take it away from her.
- In The Boy, an elderly couple hire a nanny to look after their "son", a porcelain doll called Brahms, including setting out food for it and telling it bedtime stories. A neighbor explains to the nanny that the real Brahms died many years ago, and they've been "parenting" the doll in his stead ever since. Subverted, as their son is actually alive, but is a violent adult Madwoman in the Attic who spies on the nanny from hidden passages in the walls.
- In the Czech film Little Otik (aka Greedy Guts), an infertile couple adopt a wooden stump and treat it as though it were their living child.
- In Arrow's Flight: Talia encounters a Weather Witch whose child wandered off and drowned when her attention lapsed. She has gone mad from grief and guilt and is convinced that a rag doll wrapped in a blanket is her son. Talia then finds an unwanted toddler begrudgingly tolerated by his foster family and brings him to the weather witch, who abruptly becomes sane; she and Talia believe the child is a Reincarnation of the one she lost and she has a second chance, in which she becomes a model parent.
- This appears in the book Children of Men, though it didn't make it into the movie. It's also much more common — understandable in a world where nobody can have children anymore.
- The subject in Doll Collection is an odd example, as she doesn't want children (and neither does she have them), yet she has a maternal instinct, so she collects dolls to satisfy her needs.
- In The Familiar of Zero, Princess Charlotte's mother purposefully drank a spiked drink meant for Charlotte, who is actually the next in line for the Galian throne. This resulted in her losing her mind and thinking that Charlotte's childhood doll was Charlotte herself, and that her daughter was an impostor sent to replace the doll. This leads to Charlotte leaving and adopting the name of her doll, Tabitha. Thankfully, the lady gets better in the end.
- In Magic for Marigold, by L. M. Montgomery, a Lesley family heirloom is a life-size wax doll of a baby that some long-deceased family member had made of her own little baby, who died. The mother not only dressed the doll in her baby's clothes, but carried it with her, talked to it, and slept with it as if it were real. Now it's on display in a glass case (it's a very good quality wax dummy) but some family members are plain creeped out by it...
- In The Malloreon, Ce'Nedra is put into a hallucinatory state by the villain, Zandramas, who had previously abducted her baby. In order to find out where the good guys are headed, Zandramas pretends to be a friend of Ce'Nedra and to return her baby, but what she actually gives is a bundle of rags. Ce'Nedra is left crooning over the bundle and trying to show her compatriots how beautiful it is. In order to save her from undue stress, Polgara erases her memory of the event.
- In the suspense novel Mine, by Robert R. McCammon , the character, prior to kidnapping a baby, has a few of these. Which she names for members of The Doors...and melts on the stove when they won't "behave."
- In "Overheard in an Asylum", a poem by Alfred Kreymborg, a doctor is talking to a child, saying calm, reassuring things. Then it's revealed that the child is a doll provided by the doctor to the mother.
- Overlord: Nigredo (one of Nazarick's defenders and Albedo's sister) is a long-haired woman seen cradling a baby doll. When intruders arrive, she realizes it's not her baby and rushes them with a pair of scissors, unless they had the foresight to bring a doll with them outside of her room and give it to her as her baby. Her creator was a gib fan of horror movies.
It's wrong, it's wrong, it's wrong, it's wrong...my baby, my baby, my baby—! You, you, you, you, took, took, took, took, my baby, my baby, my baby, my baby—!
- In Phantom by Susan Kay, Erik hypnotizes his mother into believing a porcelain figurine is an infant. His reasons for doing so are...complicated.
- "Soft Monkey" by Harlan Ellison : the main character is a homeless woman who treats a thrown-away doll as her own child. She's no less protective of him as some hitmen discover...
- In the Doctor Who New Adventures novel Blood Heat, the Doctor meets an alternate Jo Grant on a Silurian-ruled Earth who has been driven feral by the Silurians' race-memory effect and just repeats in terror "Cold bloods come, kill my baby" as she clutches what appears to be a bundle of rags to her chest. Eventually, the Doctor realises in horror that it is a bundle of rags, and she's not talking about something she's afraid is going to happen.
- Crazy Drusilla from Buffy the Vampire Slayer spends much of her time mothering dolls, particularly "Miss Edith". She even punishes them for perceived bad behaviour; eg., excluding them from playing with the rest or denying them meals.
- A case in Caso Cerrado involves a woman who thinks her deceased daughter has possessed a doll.
- In Desperate Housewives, when Gaby found out that her daughter had been exchanged when she gave birth, she started searching and found the other (her biological daughter)girl, and coming to realize that she couldn't keep her near her, she bought an expensive doll and started to play with her, talk to her as real person, at first this is dismissed by the other characters, but when she and Carlos are about to go out, and arguing about the doll (which was in the back sit) they get robbed and told to step out of the car, Gaby refuses to let the doll even tough the robber had a loaded gun, and tries to retrieve it, yelling "My daughter!"
- Invoked in the outrageous comedy series Gimme, Gimme, Gimme. Linda de Hughes is given a doll to use for Egg Sitting, to help her with anger management issues, and some passing strangers leap to the conclusion that's she's deranged and an example of this trope, which enrages her, and causes her to attack them with the doll.
- In The Haunting Hour episodes "Really You" and "Really You 2", Lily's mom starts treating Lily D (the doll) more like her daughter than she does the real Lily. Justified in part 2 because she just realizes that Lily D and Lily have switched places.
- Melissa from The Last Man on Earth undergoes Sanity Slippage on season 3, and at one point adopts a doll she calls Aldon while she asks the men of the group to impregnate her. Subverted in that she's aware that it is a doll, and she treats it rather callously.
- In Law & Order: Special Victims Unit:
- The detectives find a woman walking around the park with a plastic baby doll. She says that after god took her real baby he gave her one who could never die. They take the baby from her and refuse to give it back until she says whether she kidnapped a real missing baby
- In another episode, a woman who'd suffered brain damage in a bus accident lost the ability to recognize her real daughter's face, treating the girl as if she were an impostor. Instead, the woman became obsessed with an online video game, and fixated on the virtual "child" of her online avatar as her "son". When the police take her and her boyfriend into custody for neglecting her real daughter, she cries and yells because they'd hauled her away from the video screen when her "son" was in in-game danger.
- Played for laughs in Modern Family. A realistic baby doll given to Haley back in high school for as an egg-sitting type assignment is found years later in Mitch and Cam’s house. Mitch, wanting to teach Lily responsibility, leaves the baby doll at home with her to be taken care of as he takes his baby nephew Cal out for a walk in a stroller… so he thinks. He gets distracted, leaves the actual baby with Lily, and takes the baby doll in the stroller, which he doesn’t realize because the stroller has a blanket draped over it. While he’s out walking, the baby doll starts crying, and a passing woman asks if she can lift the blanket and look at the baby. Mitch says yes, and only realizes what’s going on after the woman looks at the “baby” and reacts with confusion.
- Joy from Psychoville has a doll called "Freddie" that she is convinced is her real child. She even steals blood from the hospital where she works to give Freddie in his bottle.
- In the Smallville episode "Memoria", Lex is sitting on a high balcony, in the rain, apparently hallucinating that he is rocking his baby brother Julian to sleep. He's singing to the blanket and tells his father to be quiet or he'll wake the baby. He thinks he found the baby inside of his dorm, crying and told Julian that he'd never let anyone hurt him again.
- The Ricky Gervais Show: Karl Pilktington tells a story about a homeless lady who used to walk around town pushing a baby carriage. It turned out that inside was a bucket with a face painted on it.
- In the play The Curious Savage, Florence, one of the inmates of the sanatorium, has a doll she thinks is her son, John Thomas, who died when he was an infant. She believes he is five years old and that he has the measles.
- Saeda, in Eve Ensler's play Necessary Targets, holds a bundle of blankets as a proxy for her lost daughter, Doona (whom she dropped when escaping from soldiers).
- In BioShock, one of the first female splicers (the unstable, ADAM-crazed former residents of Rapture) you meet is a mother who is increasingly desperate that her baby isn't moving. After she attacks you in a rage and you kill her, looking into the baby carriage reveals she was so far gone, she was talking to a handgun. For bonus points you can steal it and then shoot her with it.
- In the What If? story Dead Rising 2: Off the Record, Frank West finds a broken Chuck Greene who has gone crazy due to the trauma his daughter Katey's death before the game's events. He carries a Katey-sized doll on his back and claims that it's his daughter and that he won't ever let anything happen to her. And yes, you have to fight him.
- In Final Fantasy XIV, the godlike Primals can "temper" mortals to become their fanatical servants. In the Brotherhood of Ash series of sidequests, you learn that some tempered are overexposed to a Primal's aether and can be broken mentally by it. One poor victim is a woman who had been tempered by Ifrit decades ago who holds a rock bundled in a blanket, convinced the rock is her baby. She cradles it and babbles about how once her child has grown, she can offer it as a sacrifice to Ifrit.
- In Grim Dawn, you can find a crazy survivor in Burrwitch, vagrant who hides in a room with a doll on a baby chair who he treats as if he was a real baby. If you try to confront him on the argument or insult him, he will turn hostile and assault you.
- In The Sims 2, a Family sim who falls into Aspiration Desperation will draw a face on a sack of flour and start cradling it/talking to it like it's a baby.
- In Tales of Symphonia, Raine's mother Virginia has freaks out due to the guilt of sending her and her brother Genis through the Otherwordly Gate and not being able to go through, too. Also, the loss of her husband (a human) didn't help. This results in her living in a house on Exire talking to a doll as if it were a 5-year-old Raine and saying that she's pregnant and with another baby in the way (which she will name Genis if it is a boy). The problem is that a now fully grown Raine is trying to get her to realize she [Raine] is her daughter.
- Touhou Project: Junko's main gripe against the Lunarians is that one of them accidentally caused the death of her son thousands of years ago. Some fanworks take her resentment a little further by clearly never having gotten over her loss, either carrying a doll or an invisible baby and claiming it's her own.
- In Spirit Hunter: NG, Kubitarou (back when she was alive) had severe mental disorders that caused her to mistake a teddy bear for a younger brother that she didn't have. When the bear's head fell off, she started decapitating others in the hopes of offering them to a sacred cedar so that he could be 'revived'. Putting a head back on the bear and offering it to Kubitarou is necessary to pacify/destroy her.
- Bojack Horseman: In season four BoJack's mother, Beatrice, is suffering from dementia and begins treating a baby doll with a horse's head like a real child. Unsurprisingly, given his record with her, BoJack isn't amused and ends up resenting the doll because his mother is kinder to the doll than she was to him. In a fit of rage, he throws the baby doll off his balcony, but his mother has a breakdown and he guiltily heads out to retrieve it. Later, it's revealed that she lost a similar doll as a child due to her father having most of her possessions burned after Beatrice got scarlet fever, and helped her husband's mistress, Henrietta, give up a horse baby with similar features.
- The Simpsons: Homer takes a quiz that indicates he's going to die and goes a little crazy. At the plant he's found "nursing" a doll (missing an arm). His theory is that if he's a mother he can't die.