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Death Amnesia

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McCoy: You really have gone where no man's gone before. Can't you tell me what it felt like?
Spock: It would be impossible to discuss the subject without a common frame of reference.
McCoy: You're joking!
Spock: A joke... is a story with a humorous climax.
McCoy: You mean I have to die to discuss your insights on death?

Any case where a character who comes Back from the Dead remembers nothing about the afterlife. Usually done to preserve ambiguity about what the universe's afterlife is actually like, but sometimes we actually see the character in the afterlife before they come back with no memory of it. The logic is likely that if the soul exists, there's no reason for memory brain cells to record anything if the Ghost in the Machine is elsewhere while experiencing things; it would be less explainable if they did remember. An alternate explanation is that they went to paradise, and if they remembered it once they were revived, they wouldn't be able to continue living a mortal life after knowing that bliss. In some cases, it turns out they don't remember because there was nothing there, or there wasn't one at all.

Compare Ghost Amnesia. Contrast Ghost Memory.

As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.


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    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • The Crow:
    • When Eric comes back, he remembers very little of his former life except for Shelly, the names and faces of the people who murdered the two of them and an insatiable drive for revenge. The movie version wasn't able to portray this aspect of the story as well because Brandon Lee's accidental death occurred before some of the expository scenes were to be filmed.
    • The Crow: Lethe, fittingly named for the river of forgetfulness in Greek myth, stars Null Narcos, who doesn't remember who he was before he died — doesn't even know he's dead. He collects newspaper clippings of missing persons, wondering which one he could be. For the record, his name's Vincent Tismer; his mother was the state prosecutor and he was killed as a teenager by a murderous cult she was investigating.
  • Green Arrow's return to life in the Quiver arc was marked not only by him not remembering his death, but he also didn't remember several years of life before his death. In this case, it's because a version of Green Arrow was revived from several years before his death. At the end of the arc, the version who actually died takes over the body.
  • Immortal Hulk confirms that Bruce Banner, and at least some other Gamma mutates, have Resurrective Immortality, but they never remember what happens while they're dead. They go to the deepest known level of Hell, occupied by The One Below All and Bruce's abusive father.
  • The titular Spawn wakes up on Earth with very little memories of his past. He does slowly gain his memories back as time goes on. This is actually done on purpose by Malebolgia; all Hell-Spawns are sent to Earth with their memories scrambled as to keep them lost and confused.
  • When Cecil is brought back as a ghost in The Unbelievable Gwenpool, he doesn't remember anything about an afterlife... which confuses others, because in the Marvel Universe, all afterlives exist. Gwen thinks it was so awful that Cecil is suffering from trauma amnesia. "Terrible Eye" thinks he forgot because the afterlife is so abstract that the human mind cannot grasp it.

    Fan Works 
  • Abraxas (Hrodvitnon): Vivienne Graham has no memory of being dead in between the moment that Ghidorah's middle head ate her alive and her regaining her faculties thanks to San reviving and turning her into a hybrid, to the point where she isn't really even certain until around Chapter 5 whether she actually died for a while or was merely comatose throughout it all. San attempting to view Vivienne's memories and seeing a complete nothing confirms that Vivienne was temporarily dead, and she doesn't remember because she had a temporary Cessation of Existence.
  • Amaranthine Shadows: Inverted. When Bloom dies, she becomes an amnesiac soul who doesn't remember anything from when she was alive. The interludes show that she goes onto a hectic afterlife in which she has to traverse some sort of underworld. As the events are narrated in reverse, we see her progressively recover her memories. In the prologue, which comes chronologically last, the only events that she can't recall are the ones that lead to her death, so she's confused when her beloved friends and girlfriend ignore her—they can't interact with her because she's a ghost.
  • The Bridge (MLP): When King Sombra is brought back to life, the last thing he remembers is getting blown to bits by the Crystal Heart's magic. He eventually gets killed again by Princess Cadence and Xenilla. When he's brought back to life again, he wakes up screaming because he thinks he's still in that fight until he's calmed down.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • One of the mooks in The 6th Day, after being killed and then cloned (his clone having memories scanned from the corpse of the original version), says that he didn't have any sort of post-death experience. He didn't consider that his original self's brain would have been unable to form memories while he was dead, or that any kind of afterlife would be separate from his physical existence.
  • In Avengers: Endgame, Spider-Man (and presumably the other characters who return in the Mass Resurrection) only recalls that "everything got all dusty", but doesn't mention that included his own body, and figures he must have passed out afterwards.
  • Casper: The feature film combines this with Ghost Amnesia. After recovering his memories of his living self, Casper is asked what it was like to die. He answers somewhat uncertainly, "Like being born... only backwards". Gee, that's helpful.
  • Played with in the movie Chances Are, when the main character jumps the reincarnation line and doesn't get the "forget-your-life" shot. Twenty years later, he keeps having deja vu of things in his now-girlfriend (daughter of his former self)'s house. Later, when recovering in a hospital, the angel who was supposed to give him the shot manages to slip it to him and he no longer has the deja vu feelings.
  • In Dragonball Evolution, Master Roshi says after being resurrected by Shen Long that he was "in a wonderful place that he doesn't remember." He then proceeds to describe what happened there, in detail. This is the least of the movie's problems.
  • Played with in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, as seen above. Spock seems willing to explain what it was like to die and be resurrected to Dr. McCoy, it's just that he can't. Apparently only two people who have died can discuss being dead.note  He's also unwilling to make metaphors that aren't precise.
  • After Dr. Beaumont brings John Ellman back from the dead in The Walking Dead (1936), he is desperate to know what lies beyond death. However, Ellman either cannot remember or cannot express (or perhaps is forbidden from expressing) what he experienced, and anything he does say is frustratingly vague. The one thing he does know is that Beaumont should not have brought him back.

  • The main characters in Eden Green are infected with an alien needle symbiote that resurrects them from any injury, including complete destruction of their head. They either experience no afterlife or have no memory of it after reawakening.
  • Point Horror Unleashed uses this at the end of Fright Train. The protagonists are both in the hospital after being sent back from Hell due to a mix up. Neither of them remember what happened between the train crash and waking up in hospital but due to the burned handprints on their birth certificates (that they used to prove their identities), they decide they might be better off not remembering.
  • In Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson, people who die a particularly heroic death are sometimes sent back to the living with a purpose. Only, they don't remember the afterlife, they don't remember the purpose, and for an extra twist they don't remember their previous life or death either.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Phil Coulson seemingly remembered a beautiful light after his death and resurrection prior to the start of the series. However, it eventually turns out that these were Fake Memories to cover up the horrific trauma of his resurrection. He is very annoyed that this means he doesn't actually remember anything about the afterlife. When his old friend May is killed temporarily and brought back a few minutes later for medical reasons, he keeps badgering her about what she saw.
    May: You want to know what I saw, Phil?
    Coulson: Yeah.
    May: I saw you.
    Coulson: [looks at May in shock]
    May: Don't let it go to your head.
    • As well as this, when Coulson is finally revived a second time as a Life Model Decoy, it is made clear that he only remembers his time up to a brain scan commenced prior to being placed in the digital Framework in Season 4, with the events revolving his death and the last year of his previous life being unknown to him. This is quickly fixed as he is quickly recalibrated with these memories not long afterwards, causing him to freak out from the memories themselves and the shock of being killed and revived again.
    • Season 7’s Groundhog Day time loop episode plays along with this, dealing with the group being stuck in a time loop, repeating the events leading up to their deaths over and over again while also growing closer and closer to oblivion every loop, dealing with the ship’s time drive exploding at a certain time every loop and dealing with sabotage in the ship. The only two people that end up remembering the loops are Phil Coulson and Daisy Johnson but due to rules laid out in the episode, when Daisy is killed in the loops, she will forget about her knowledge of the loops and have to relearn it all over again, not helped by the impending danger, so the group has to make sure that she doesn’t die to retain that knowledge. The saboteur is eventually revealed to be Enoch, who was programmed with instructions to prevent the removal of Jemma Simmons’ memory wiping device, placed for the protection of her husband Leo Fitz, at all costs, even though its removal is essential to fix the ship’s time drive.
  • The Brittas Empire: When Brittas initially returns from the dead, he not only does not remember his time in the afterlife, but that he even died in the first place. Once he is told that he died at one point though, it does all come flooding back to him.
  • Buffyverse:
    • Buffy died in the season 1 and season 5 finales. The first time, when she was briefly clinically dead, she appeared not to remember anything from that short time. The second time, after having been dead for several months, she first confessed to Spike that she believed she had been in Heaven or something resembling it, then, in "Once More with Feeling", told the rest of the gang while under the control of that episode's phlebotinum. When she is drawing what she remembers, she shows a white light in a black area. While this seems like a cliche, she is trying to describe it using her limited human senses.
    • Darla, from Angel, claims to remember nothing between her death as a vampire and resurrection as a human, even though various hells clearly exist within the series, most likely because she lacks a soul. Her later ghostly appearance to Connor may suggest some more hopeful alternative, however.
  • Charmed: In "Ex Libris", a bookworm named Charlene Hughes is murdered. When her ghost comes back, she doesn't even realize that she's dead and tries to go about her business. Since she was kind of anti social, she didn't notice that only people like the Charmed Ones could see or hear her. She only figures it out when she tries to go home and sees her family mourning for her.
  • An episode of Criminal Minds featured an UNSUB who was revived after drowning, having had the classic near-death experience (passing through a tunnel, bright light etc.). He drowned and revived others in an effort to learn more about the afterlife. At the conclusion of the case the hyper-rational Spence discloses that he had the near-death experience when he was killed and revived and the more emotional Prentiss discloses that following her near-death she experienced nothing.
  • Doctor Who: Non-active Dalek Puppets often suddenly remember dying shortly before activating.
  • In a sort of "backwards" pre-death use of the trope, in FlashForward (2009) many individuals who do not experience a flash forward during the blackout believe this to be an indication that they will die within the next six months.
  • In Fringe, William Bell's consciousness is temporarily recovered using a "soul magnet." None of the other characters bother to ask him what death was like, perhaps due to them assuming this trope. Or maybe not.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Beric Dondarrion has been killed and revived six times. When Melisandre asks him what the afterlife is like, he says he only remembers dying and coming back.
    • When Jon Snow is brought back to life, Melisandre asks him what the afterlife is like, but he says the last thing he remembers is getting killed.
  • The creators of John Doe claim that this is the reason why the titular character can't remember anything about his life before being found by fishermen. This was supposed to have been The Reveal, but the show was cancelled before it happened. John was part of an experiment to kill a person and bring him back in order to get all the knowledge of humankind that one is supposed to receive in the afterlife. The experiment worked but had side-effects, such as the amnesia and colorblindness (Word of God is that the latter is due to all that knowledge overloading the visual centers of John's brain).
  • Lexx: The afterlife exists as a physical location, the binary planetary system of Fire and Water. Not only do none of the characters who died and get resurrected remember being there, but the dead themselves don't remember their former lives at all. They simply 'wake up' and either suffer or waste their days in idle pleasure for the rest of eternity. Or at least they would have if the main characters hadn't blown heaven and hell up, because that's the kind of show Lexx is.
  • John Locke from Lost claims to remember nothing after his death. Subverted by the fact that it's not really him.
  • Pushing Daisies: The last thing anyone resurrected by Ned remembers is the way they died.
  • The Sopranos: Tony's coma dream flows steadily out of his memory, with the exception of the beckoning light.
  • Stargate SG-1: Happens to Daniel Jackson when he comes Back from the Dead - he can't remember what it's like to be ascended. Initially he can't remember details of his life before ascension either, but gets those back.
    • This is explicitly because the other Ascended wiped his memory, though: everyone else who gets bumped back to mortal gets to keep all their handy-dandy Infinite Cosmic Knowledge. Until it overloads their puny human brain, of course.
    • He does have occasional flashbacks, such as remembering that Teal'c son and mentor are trapped on a Goa'uld penal colony. He had to perform a Kelno'reem (Jaffa meditation ritual) to remember the details, though.
  • Star Trek:
    • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Rightful Heir", when the Klingon mythological hero Kahless returns, Worf asks him about the afterlife, and Kahless claims he is unable to remember, since he is a traveler between worlds and is only able to retain knowledge of the world he currently inhabits. It turns out that he's actually a clone (he probably still thought the explanation was what he'd said, since he wasn't aware he was a clone at that point).
    • In the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Mortal Coil", Neelix has an existential crisis over this. His people hold that there exists a wonderful afterlife where he would be reunited with his family... but the fact that he remembers nothing after dying temporarily leads him to question his faith and reason for existence.
  • Supernatural:
    • A variation — Dean wakes up from a coma with no memory of his Near-Death Clairvoyance sequence.
    • Playing the trope straight, Sam remembers nothing about the afterlife when Dean brings him Back from the Dead.
    • Dean claims to remember nothing after he's yanked out of Hell by Castiel, but his troubled behavior and flashes of Hell indicate otherwise. In this instance, it's subverted when Dean admits ten episodes later that he remembers everything from when he was in Hell and was faking the amnesia.
    • It's insinuated that Dean only remembers because Castiel pulled him out; demons apparently add Death Amnesia as part of the resurrection deal.
    • Doll Alicia doesn't remember dying, instead feeling like she must've drank too much last night. Max hides her death from her by burning her real body.
  • The Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood:
    • Most of those brought back by the resurrection glove are unable to remember anything, especially since they are panicking and only have 20 more seconds to live. In the end, it turns out from the one character that can remember it that there is no afterlife except for total darkness and ominous footsteps, and that's why the others couldn't remember it.
    • More directly used when Owen is resurrected, as he notes that there was nothing he can remember without ruling out an afterlife altogether.

    Mythology and Folklore 
  • In Classical Greek Mythology, the dead were made to drink from the River of Lethe, which caused forgetfulness, before they could be reincarnated, making this Older Than Feudalism.
  • In Celtic Mythology, the dead can't speak, so they can't reveal anything about the afterlife. Truth in Television!
  • In Chinese Mythology, souls reincarnate, but before they enter their next body they have to drink some kind of tea (served by Grandmother Meng, the goddess of forgetfulness) that makes them forget their previous life. This memory/memories can be recovered through aid from some powerful beings (or by Enlightening yourself), as happened in Journey to the West.
  • Mormons believe that prior to being born on earth, our memories of the "premortal existence" is forgotten. Other spiritual traditions such as the aforementioned Chinese spiritualism also have similar beliefs.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Characters in Dungeons & Dragons generally don't remember the afterlife after being raised from the dead, which is generally blamed on the "trauma of the experience". In most settings, it's possible to visit the places where dead souls go, but they generally remember even less about their lives than the undead.
    • The Planescape setting and various other materials like Planar Handbook or Manual of the Planes add a pseudo-science explanation for the above: when you die your soul passes through the Astral and leaves a "memory core" behind. When you're called back, your soul passes back through the astral and grabs its core again, which overwrites any memories formed in the afterlife. Once in a while, though, you might grab the wrong set of memories...
  • In KULT, this is explicitly caused by the machination of the Demiurge to make sure humans can't reach their true potential in the cycle of reincarnation. Once every other while though, some souls escape the mechanism, and thus an Enfante Terrible who remember the horrors of The City That Is Everywhere is born.

  • In Jasper in Deadland, upon returning to life, Agnes clearly remembers nothing about Deadland. It's implied that Jasper still remembers everything on account of him being Only Mostly Dead when he entered Deadland.

    Video Games 
  • Something like this occurs in Destiny. Guardians who are chosen to be resurrected apparently have little to no recollection of what their past lives were like before they died. In fact, it's forbidden to even go searching for information about your pre-Guardian life, so as to keep Guardians on task with the whole "defend humanity against the Darkness" thing.
  • This is the norm in Pillars of Eternity. When a person dies, their soul is (usually) sent to The Wheel, lingering in The In-Between for a time and reincarnating in a newborn child. Both the Player Character and Big Bad are both exceptions. The Player Character is a Watcher, someone who can perceive wayward souls not yet scooped up by The Wheel; this trait remains after death, or rather will, since they become a Watcher at the beginning of the game. The villain, Thaos ix Arkannon, remembers his past lives each time he reaches adolescence, enabling him to formulate plots that take centuries to bear out. He was given this power by Woedica, the god of vengeance.
    • The sequel expands on the Watcher's unusual interaction with The Wheel, with the prologue taking place in the In-Between with the Watcher Not Quite Dead after the destruction of their Keep, Caed Nua.
  • This is why reincarnies are so often willing to sin again in Reincarnation (2008) - when they jump through a reincarny portal, all memories of Hell are erased.
  • In a RuneScape quest, a cave goblin is killed and later revived with her memories of death missing. Whether her memory of it was erased or there is not an afterlife to remember is commented on but not explained. Of course, none of this cosmological ambiguity applies to player characters, who are immediately restored to life by the gods after payment in the form of wrist slaps. Plus the fact that there are ghosts crawling all over Runescape and you occasionally help them pass on, destroys the ambiguity. Not that Zanik had seen any of them by that point.
  • Averted in Warcraft, Sylvanas remembers paradise fondly and being ripped away from it is part of what made her so twisted and bitter as a banshee, and when she dies again in a short story, she goes to a dark hell where she gets tortured (it's not made clear if it's because she's an undead or if it's because she was becoming what Arthas was), and coming back from that makes her much more unhinged.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice, ghosts that are summoned back to the living world are unable to remember their afterlife, to them no time has passed between that moment and when they died or were previously summoned. This becomes a plot point in the final case. The killer uses this trait in order to trick the ghost of the victim into thinking that he was still alive. This is used to make a witness report seeing the victim alive hours after his death, during which time the killer has an unbreakable alibi.

    Web Animation 
  • Love of the S*n: Charger Block has forgotten his hundreds of trips to the S*n, as his memories have been wiped every time. This happens with every object who dies and gets recovered.

  • Subverted in The Adventures of Dr. McNinja. This is supposed to happen, but Ben Franklin came back from the dead once before he remembers it the second time. But the part of the afterlife he got to (purgatory) isn't interesting enough to bother remembering anyway, and most people there don't even realize they're dead unless it's explained to them.
  • In Erfworld, Archon Lilith ponders her lack of memories of an afterlife during the brief time she spent croaked.
  • Housepets!: Downplayed. Breel died at some point in the 1800s and spends two centuries dead before being revived in the 2000s. Upon returning from Heaven he retains all of his memories, but oddly finds that he can't remember the exact sensation of how it felt to be an angel. One strip features him trying to recreate the dishes he ate while there, desperate to try and capture their deliciousness again, but he always falls short.
  • It's Walky!: Tony remembers no afterlife after being resurrected 2 years after his death, but an afterlife is shown towards the end of the series.
  • The Order of the Stick: Once Roy is resurrected, all he apparently remembers of Celestia is a happy, wonderful blur. However, he has perfect recollection of his time spent as a ghost on the mortal planes, as well as his time on the cloud (the Celestial "waiting room"), and later mentions his mom, who he only met in Celestia.
  • Whenever Oasis comes Back from the Dead in Sluggy Freelance, her memory is always fuzzy concerning the exact moment of her death and anything that happened between then and her resurrection. Though at one point she freaks both herself and her killer out by remembering something that happened while she was a corpse lying on the floor.

    Web Original 
  • Dragon Ball Z Abridged: Parodied when Krillin is brought back after Freeza killed him. He appears in the same pose and screaming like when he was killed, and the others have to point out that he is fine. This is the only time something like this happens, likely because Krillin is a Butt-Monkey.
  • In Red vs. Blue Church promises Sarge that he won't suffer this... if he gives Church 5 bucks.
  • In The Spoony Experiment when Spoony and his clone were talking about what the Original Spoony went through after his death. He said that it's "all pantheistic or some shit", where you become part of the earth, the trees and all things living. It was kind of "gay" to him. The living Spoony replies, "YES! I'm not going to hell for jerking off!" A few videos later, though, it turns out that the Farplane exists in this universe and that it has a hellish level to it from which Black Lantern Spoony summons Tidus.

    Western Animation 
  • In Star vs. the Forces of Evil, the action star Mackie Hand has been dead for over thirty years. When he gets brought back as a zombie in "Friendenemies", he thinks mere moments have passed since his fatal accident.
  • Steven Universe:
    • Lars dies, is brought back to life minutes later, and acts as if they were just unconscious.
      Back to life? So I was... away from life?
    • In Steven Universe: Future, Jasper acts as if no time passes between Steven accidentally shattering her gem and using the Diamonds' essences to put the pieces back together, though unlike the former they realized what happened.

Well, now Kirk gets the joke. Am I right? *Gets killed by Trekkies*