This trope covers situations when a person is treated as effectively dead and gone even though their body is still physically alive. This is generally because the "person" has been erased in some way.
This can cover mild examples (like memory loss) or more serious examples (like Loss of Identity or damage to the soul). It can occur accidentally or through happenstance (e.g. illness or injury), maliciously (e.g. being assimilated by The Virus or invaded by a foreign consciousness), or punitively (Speculative Fiction settings often use mind-wiping and personality overwriting as a form of capital punishment). This trope and its subtropes are often treated as a Fate Worse than Death or a means of making someone Deader Than Dead. Yet some of the following methods are reversible; an amnesiac could remember everything, a possessing entity could be given the boot, Fake Memories could be recognized as fake. So treat these as "death" only if no such reversal occurs.
Subtropes (examples of which should go on their relevant page) include:
- Assimilation Plot: A plan which revolves around doing this to everyone.
- The Assimilator: A specific character or creature who can do this. You lose your individuality to the Hive Mind in the process.
- Blank Slate: When the person's lost all their experiences and memories.
- Brainwashing for the Greater Good: This trope is generally why it's portrayed as a bad thing.
- Clone by Conversion: When someone is "killed" by being turned into a copy of someone else.
- Cybernetics Eat Your Soul: When this is caused by having machinery integrated with your body.
- Despair Event Horizon: When the despair is so intense and horrible that it irrevocably crushes someone's very identity.
- Empty Shell: When the whole personality's gone, essentially leaving a p-zombie.
- Fake Memories: If there are enough of them.
- Grand Theft Me: Something destroys or suppresses the old personality and replaces it.
- Split-Personality Takeover: When a second personality "kills" or overwhelms them from within the same mind (rather than coming from outside the person).
- Lobotomy: Surgical removal of the personality.
- Loss of Identity: When one's very identity is forcibly taken from them in some way.
- Scatterbrained Senior: When played for drama, how a person will begin to forget their loved ones' names and who they are as their memory dies.
- The Mind Is a Plaything of the Body: In particularly extreme cases.
- Technically Living Zombie: At least the mindless variety.
- That Man Is Dead: When what's left of the "dead" person spells it out. Can be used both for literal cases of this trope and for when the character merely believes they've changed so radically as to become a different person.
Contrast Un-person, who is merely treated as if they no longer (or never did) exist. Compare Mind Control and Brainwashed, which usually just force a person to act differently without damaging their personality.
As a Death Trope, all spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.
- In the original Ghost in the Shell manga there's a mention that the penalty faced by the Criminal of the Week for "ghost-dubbing" is "death or mindwipe".
- Male Shiki's "death" in Kara no Kyoukai.
- A Certain Magical Index:
- Touma Kamijou lost his memories in the first arc. The only thing he retained was his Chronic Hero Syndrome. The original Touma returned Index's love note while present Touma is mystified that everyone thinks he would be attracted to a little girl.
- The amoral psychopath Teitoku Kakine practically gets erased from existence when his creation, the kind and gentle Beetle 05, takes over his body.
- In Letter Bee Gauche Suede lost his "heart" and becomes Noir. He eventually gets better though, but it turns out that he was faking it, since his exposure to the sun meant that his lost memories would never return.
- In Claymore, Priscilla is diced to pieces by Clare's Quicksword. While she is able to recover physically, the experience destroyed her mentally. Teresa claims that "Priscilla" is effectively already dead, and all that is left of her is a body driven by mindless hatred.
- Casca of Berserk undergoes one after the horrific events of The Eclipse, reverting to an infantile mental state without any true recollection of her old self, and post-Golden Age, it becomes Guts's first priority to restore her sanity.
- In most incarnations of Digimon, the titular Mons are reverted to eggs upon death. However, they don't always retain their memories or personalities upon hatching despite their body surviving in some form through the process. In Digimon Savers, the protagonist is warned that this is likely to happen to his partner Digimon following the use of a Deadly Upgrade. It doesn't. Agumon remembers everything.
- In Izure Shinwa No Ragnarok, a human possessed by a god has their soul completely overwritten. Raika managed to avoid this fate due to the powers of his cross necklace, which keeps Balor from fully possessing him. He manages to force Brunhild to give Charlotte her personality back, but this only works because their possession was incomplete to begin with.
- The ultimate fate of Pride in Fullmetal Alchemist, reduced to a childlike state by Edward Elric after his defeat. Ironically, this leads to a sort of Birth of Personality as well, as Pride's physical body is now an innocent little boy—just like the one he had long pretended to be.
- In Kemono Friends, the reason Ceruleans are so feared is because they feed off of Sandstar, the substance that changed the Friends from mundane, unintelligent animals into human-like forms in the first place. A Friend who's drained of Sandstar reverts to their original form, losing all their memories in the process. It's strongly implied that the Serval from the anime is the same one from the original KF mobile game, but she was de-transformed by a Cerulean and re-transformed by another Sandstar eruption between the two stories, meaning she doesn't remember anything before that point.
- Rosario + Vampire: Near the end of the manga, Outer Moka is seemingly destroyed then Alucard destroys the rosary that created her. Ultimately subverted by the end, as Outer Moka's soul remains in Inner Moka's body, leading to a Split-Personality Merge in the finale.
- Dragon Ball Z: Being essentially a fusion, Super Buu is an entirely separate being than the other two main Buus, Fat and Kid. Detaching Fat Buu, according to Super Buu himself, causes him to "cease to exist". While removing Fat Buu doesn't physically kill Super Buu, just reverting him to the pure Kid Buu, it still completely erases Super Buu. Taken to a further extreme when Kid Buu is reincarnated as Uub; Super Buu was only possible via a combination of Fat Buu and Kid Buu, both due to their ki and biology. With Kid Buu's 'soul' being reincarnated in a normal human's body now, Super Buu can never be formed again. Instead of being dead in the afterlife, he doesn't exist at all — he's the only DBZ character, outside of Android 16, to be well and truly gone.
- This is the ultimate fate of Dream in The Sandman. Dream is one of the Endless, who are practically living ideas, so they can't die in the true sense of the word. After having Mercy Killed his son, Orpheus, Dream is attacked by the Furies, whose job is to punish those who murder their own kin, and ultimately chooses to die at Death's hand. However, he's reborn in a new form, who then continues to do his predecessor's work. So the idea called Dream keeps on living, but the character everyone knew as him is dead.
Eblis O'Shaughnessy: Then what died? Who are you mourning?
Abel: A point of view.
- In ElfQuest, this is effectively the fate of One-Eye's body when he is killed in the prelude to The Palace War. After Leetah tries to heal him and only manages to heal his empty, soulless body, it is kept in Preserver webbing for many years until his lifemate, Clearbrook, accepts that he's not coming back and so cuts the webbing and allows his body to die.
- The fate of Kid Loki after he is left with no choice but to overwrite his own mind with the memories of his past self to save existence. The worst part is that all of this was set in motion by his past self. Loki essentially murdered himself. It should be noted that the Loki who took over isn't really original Loki either, he's technically a mental clone of the original who feels profoundly guilty for his role in all of this.
- In a profound case of irony, that Loki was later forced to go through much the same thing, sacrificing their own identity in an act of rebranding to foil an older, madder Loki from a Bad Future, becoming a fourth, new Loki who considered themselves different from the last, something they were forewarned about several times.
- Spider-Man: Curt Connors suffers this fate in the storyline Shed, when the Lizard persona murders his son Billy.
- In the Stars Above side-story My Sunshine, this is the fate of Mami Tomoe. She is fed on repeatedly by a Demon that eats her memories, until she is reduced to an infantile state.
- This is what happens to Piedmon in Zero 2 A Revision thanks to Umbradevimon's touch of evil leaving Puppetmon as the last of the Dark Masters.
- Happens in "Last Rights" to a slain USS Bajor crewman who is resurrected as a Kobali, explained as a result of perimortem oxygen deprivation. The brain damage was repaired during the resurrection process, but the person we knew as Senior Chief Security Officer Athezra Darrod is believed gone for good. The Kobali actually prefer this outcomenote , since it's easier to transition to your new life if you can't remember your old one. Athezra's captain, Kanril Eleya, says in her Internal Monologue that it's harder on her.
- In With This Ring, Martians do this to criminals who commit severe crimes.
- In the RWBY/Hetalia crossover Weight Of The World, this is what America fears will happen to him if he accepts the rest of Vale's Aura. After Cinder is killed and all of Vale's soul is released to America, the two fight for control of America's body (with Vale Mind Raping America in an attempt to delete his soul). America is able to reason with her and they peacefully merge, which causes them to lose all of their memories. It seems their memories are not gone forever.
- The Never Ending Story II has The Emptiness slowly do this to Bastien by erasing his memories.
- In Return of the Jedi, Obi-Wan explains to Luke that he considered Anakin to be dead after he became Darth Vader.
Darth Vader: That name no longer has any meaning for me.
- Interestingly, this is one of the few things Vader and Obi-Wan agree on. In the end, a dying Vader admits to Luke that he was lying to himself all along, and that he really is still Anakin.
- Life, Animated: Owen suddenly began showing the symptoms of autism at the age of three, which gave the impression of this trope. His parents report feeling like their son had been kidnapped at the time.
- The local police chief in the Alex Benedict series was originally a serial killer who had had his memory overwritten. It's a Red Herring, by the way: the apparent Chekhov's Gun never goes off.
- The Jokka from M.C.A. Hogarth's Tales of the Jokka are susceptible to the "mind-death" when they experience physical trauma or heatstroke. Females are most vulnerable, especially during childbirth, but even hardy neuters may fall victim. At the end of A Bloom in the North though they find a Jokka colony on the northern continent where mind death is practically unknown, it's only common on the main continent because of malnutrition in their post-apocalyptic wasteland.
- Inversion: the Auditors are the supernatural bureaucrats of the Cosmos. They begin as grey soul-less entities; for them, to develop a recognisable personality and individual self-awareness is death. They forgot this in Thief of Time when a group of them decided it would be a good idea to adopt human bodies, so as to tidy creation up from the inside.
- Played straight in the Witch novels. A skilled witch can send her mind into an animal's mind, hitching a ride with it to see, hear and feel what it sees, hears, and feels. However, staying in animal form too long causes the witch's identity to fade, until nothing is left but an unusually intelligent animal.
- In Dragon Bones, Ward's mother eventually falls victim to this, after using herbal potions to escape reality for too long. Ward has the ability to find people in a magical way ... and can't find his mother anymore, at some point, even though she's right beside him.
- In the Chronicles of Chaos by John C. Wright, this is referenced by Vanity, upon learning that all of them are Uranians (or Titans) and prisoners of war of the Olympians, who had their memories erased, forced into human bodies, and raised as such she cries that they commited murder by making them forget their true selves.
- In Mockingjay Katniss feels this way about the hijacked Peeta. She grieves him as if he had died.
- The Demolished Man provides the inspiration and perhaps Ur-Example for the trope namer with the practice of Demolition: erasing a convict's mind to a Blank Slate and building it up again into a more benevolent personality, thus not removing an intelligence that could possibly be beneficial to mankind just because the personality was bad.
- Harry Potter:
- The Dementor's Kiss devours the victim's soul but leaves the empty body behind.
- Prolonged Cold-Blooded Torture by the Cruciatus Curse left Alice and Frank Longbottom permanently catatonic and barely able to recognize their own son.
- Also referenced in Quidditch Through the Ages, in the first chapter. The book says that a witch or wizard who is transformed into a bat will be able to fly, but "having the mind of a bat will likely forget where they were going". This also implies that any Transfiguration of a human results in this, unless they are Transfigured back.
- Shai's fifth Essence Mark in The Emperor's Soul. While the first four grant differing skills and some physical alteration, they still allow her to remember who and what she truly is. But the fifth transformation, if ever used, would be total, erasing her entire history. As far as she would then know, she would never have been anyone other than the simple farm girl that Mark makes her.
- Journey to Chaos: This trope is part of why mana mutation is so scary. All of your personality is wiped out and overwritten with that of a savage beast. As Basilard puts it "If a mana storm doesn't kill you, then it will kill the person you used to be".
- The book version of The Neverending Story also sees Bastian punished by his personality and memories slowly leaking away.
- In The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Jekyll explains that no matter what happens to him as Hyde, Jekyll will be dead as there's no way for him to return once the formula runs out.
- In the Imperial Radch series, "ancillaries" are human prisoners of war who are given brain implants to link them to a spaceship's Artificial Intelligence, a process that subsumes and destroys the human personality. After Lieutenant Tisarwat is briefly assimilated into Anaander Mianaai's network of mind-linked clones with ancillary implants, people who know treat her as a completely new person formed from the remnants of Tisarwat and the residual personality and memories of Mianaai.
- In the Greg Egan novel Diaspora, AIs can edit their own minds to adapt to a task or for recreational purposes. Inoshiro crosses the Despair Event Horizon and rewrites their entire worldview into a hollow Straw Nihilist philosophy with inescapable logic loops, effectively destroying their old identity.
- Babylon 5: This series is the Trope Namer. "Death of Personality" is a mindwipe carried out by a high-powered telepath, used by the Earth Alliance as a "more humane" form of capital punishment for the worst crimes, but it's still controversial.
- In the episode "The Quality of Mercy" a serial killer is sentenced to Death of Personality, because he's considered too dangerous to ship back to Earth and military law only allows spacing in cases of mutiny and treason.
- The punishment is deconstructed in the episode "Passing Through Gethsemane" when one of an order of monks living on the station is horrified to find out he's actually a convicted serial killer who was mind wiped and reprogrammed with a personality inclined to do service. When his detention center had a fire he got lost, and eventually found his way to the monks. After he's murdered by the brother of one of his victims, the brother is mind-wiped and the abbot recruits him into the order.
- An episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit ends with Munch's clinically depressed uncle coming off his medication to "kill" himself as penance for murdering a suspect while in a mania caused as a side effect of his medication (the medication he was offered was explicitly stated as avoiding these side effects again).
- In the Buffyverse, vampires in general are portrayed as this. They're essentially a human who's died and had their soul replaced by a demon (who gains their memories and sometimes might even actually believe they're the original person). The exact implications of this aren't clear (vampires have been shown to be able to regain a soul), but this trope has been brought up in regards to it several times. The best being the episode "Lie to Me", where Buffy tries to explain this to a group of Vampire Vannabes (and the episode's villain, who it turns out doesn't care, because he's dying anyway).
- It has been indicated that some vampires may carry a portion of the person they were before. Lampshaded in "Dopplegangland":
Willow: That's me as a vampire? I'm so evil and skanky...and I think I'm kinda gay.Buffy: Willow, just remember, a vampire's personality has nothing to do with the person it was.Angel: Actually, (Buffy gives Angel a Death Glare)'...that's a good point.
- It has been indicated that some vampires may carry a portion of the person they were before. Lampshaded in "Dopplegangland":
- Fred had her soul completely destroyed when Illyria possessed her in the final season of Angel. People, including Buffy herself, came Back from the Dead several times, but it was made very clear that Fred was Killed Off for Real, even though her body was still walking around and could do a very good impersonation of her.
- This happens several times on The Twilight Zone. For example, in "The Lateness of the Hour", a woman discovers that she is actually a robot. Unable to cope, she goes mad and her "parents" reprogram her as a maid, effectively destroying her personality.
- Doctor Who:
"Everything I am dies. Some new man goes sauntering away. And I'm dead."
- People who are transformed into Cybermen are stripped of all personality and individuality, becoming soulless killers. Once a human is transformed, they're considered dead and all that can be done is to destroy the Cyberman. The same goes for humans transformed into Daleks. In a few cases, though (Yvonne Hartman, Miss Hartigan, Oswin Oswald, Tasha Lem, Danny Pink, and The Brigadier), a human has a strong enough will to resist complete conversion.
- Everlasting death for the most faithful companion — loss of memories causing the reversion of a significant amount of character development.
- The "chameleon arch" converts a Time Lord into a human, complete with false memories and a different personality. In some cases (like the Doctor), the transformation keeps the personality somewhat intact - although the Doctor does lose his vicious streak after becoming "John Smith the schoolteacher." In other cases (like The Master), the personality is radically different. The change is reversible, although even with renewed memories, the Time Lord always keeps a bit of his or her human identity.
- In "The End of Time," the Doctor describes regeneration like this:
- In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Sons of Mogh" this ends up being Worf's solution for dealing with his suicidal brother Kurn, who had demanded that Worf kill him so he could die with honor. He hit on this solution after being rather unsurprisingly forbidden to carry out the normal ritual for this. One memory erasure and plastic surgery later, Worf hands Kurn off to a friend of their father's who had promised to treat Kurn as his own son.
- The Defenders (2017): When Elektra is revived by the Hand following her death at Nobu's hands, her memories are suppressed so that she's essentially Alexandra's attack dog and not much more. Encounters with Matt and Stick cause her to regain her former memories and revert back to something akin to what she was before her death, except much more evil and willing to kill Stick, Alexandra, and anyone who keeps her from acquiring the substance for her own desires.
- Shadowrun. When an insect spirit possesses a human being it overwrites and destroys the human's personality with its own. If the spirit achieves a "Good Merge" it can keep the original personality's memories and use them to impersonate the victim.
- In Monte Cook's World of Darkness, the costumes at one theatre cause this, permanently overwriting the personality of anyone who puts one on with that of the character it's based on. Being a Crapsack World, this is mentioned to be a relatively common method of suicide in that region.
- In Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay's second edition supplement Tome of Corruption, rules and stats are provided for a chain of Chaos Warrior careers, representing how a character changes upon selling his soul to the Gods of Chaos. The descriptions of each career state that the character begins to slowly forget their past as they grow more and more corrupt; Chaos Knights forget minor details, Aspiring Champions can only recall the most important events, Champions forget so much that they begin to form new names and identities, and Exalted Champions simply have no knowledge of (or concern for) their past at all. By the end, almost nothing is left of the character's original identity, and what remains is a fractured personality formed from rampant insanity and the overpowering influence of his chosen deity.
- Breath of Fire II: Mina is transformed into a "Great Bird" as a heroic sacrifice. To quote one NPC [paraphrased]:
"If you become a bird, your mind becomes a bird's. Isn't that the same as dying?"
- Inverted in Final Fantasy VIII, where the entire cast is victims of some form of dead personality ( the SeeD are amnesiacs, the sorceresses, Edea and Rinoa, are victims of possession by Ultimecia), but at the end of Disc III, everyone gets better.
- In Infinity Blade, damaging the Quantum Identity Pattern of a Deathless can lead to this. Three Deathless suffer this in the games: Siris, Thane, and the Worker of Secrets. In the first and third cases, the memories of their past lives were almost completely erased giving them both a fresh start in life. Siris starts to remember enough of his past life as an Evil Overlord to feel intense remorse for his horrific deeds and fear of becoming that person again. The Worker is reborn as an innocent child though he shows signs of his past life's genius. Thane suffers the worst fate: when he is brought back, he is a grotesque monster that isn't even sentient any more.
- In Shadowrun Returns's "Dragonfall" DLC, Glory is essentially attempting Suicide of Personality by way of excessive cyberware. As atonement for being made to kill her mother by a cult.
- Starbound: An example in the backstory shows the dangers of Brain Uploading; The original Big Ape got his mind uploaded into a computer once he grew old, but as the decades passed various scientists tampered with it like any other program; the original personality is pretty much gone by the time you meet him, replaced with an insane patchwork of various "fixes" made by the scientists in charge.
- In Undertale, it's revealed toward the end of the True Pacifist route that Flowey is the result of infusing a flower with determination, when said flower had Asriel's dust scattered on it. By absorbing the six human souls and that of every monster in the underground, it was possible for Flowey to turn back into Asriel, leading to the game's final battle. At the end of the battle, Asriel destroys the barrier, then reveals that since he can no longer hold the souls inside him, he will turn back into Flowey, thereby losing the ability to love and all the traits that made him who he was. Just before the ending, while the other monsters are preparing to leave for the surface, you can find Asriel waiting in the ruins where you first met Flowey, asking you to leave because he believes he can't show his face around anyone else, especially his parents, since he's no longer the child they knew.
- Every single incarnation of The Nameless One (prior to the current one) in Planescape: Torment. Because of his condition causing Identity Amnesia every time he resurrects, hundreds if not thousands of versions of the The Nameless One are 'dead' before you wake up in the Mortuary at the beginning of the game. The current version is immune thanks to Rule of Fun, explained in-game by one of your previous incarnations being able to fix the flaw (but not in time to save himself).
- In Umineko: When They Cry, it's revealed at the end of the story that Battler had physically survived the Rokkenjima incident, but he had lost nearly all of his memories and went on to live under a new identity as Tooya Hachijo. The narration and Tooya himself make it clear that even though Tooya eventually regained those memories, he and Battler should be considered different people and the Battler we've come to know is long gone.
- In Tsukihime, the original Shiki, the child known as Shiki Nanaya, is explicitly considered to have died when his adoptive father wiped his mind and brainwashed him. Not everyone sees it this way, but Shiki certainly does. In the words of the fading fragments of the original personality, "I am your foundation but not your past.".
- In Super Dangan Ronpa 2, Hajime Hinata suffered this after undergoing the "Hope Cultivation Plan" and being transformed into the superhuman "Izuru Kamukura". The project either excised or suppressed all of Hajime's senses, thoughts, emotions, hobbies, and memories that interfered with acquiring talent. This came at the cost of making his new personality incredibly sociopathic and susceptible to being influenced by Junko Enoshima when she convinced "Izuru" to join the terroist group Ultimate Despair.
- In Freefall this is the result of the "Gardener in the Dark" upgrade for robots using Bowman's neural nets. It cuts off all neural pathways not related to their core programming, a Jar Jar Binks robot that was determined to scrap himself and quoting Shakespeare started running around saying "meesa Jar Jar Binks" when infected, and falling over and requesting assistance getting back up. Fortunately it can be canceled if the robot hasn't had a chance to sleep and commit the upgrade to long-term memory, just wipe their day memory and they're back to how they were the previous day.
- In El Goonish Shive:
Jerry: I haven't been referring to it as "death" to be a drama queen, you know.
- Immortals do this when they "die" in order to reset themselves. While their fundamental nature as a person does not change, most of their memories and personality will be lost upon their "death". And the memories they do choose to keep are retained only as information, not experiences.
- This is the goal of "Not-Tengu" in order to create his "flock".
- Eric from Sam & Fuzzy lost his entire identity and all his memories, and is treated as 'dead' by the cast with Fuzzy being a new person inhabiting the body. While Laser-Guided Amnesia of the type that 'killed' him happens to several characters, Eric is unique in that his personality dramatically changed and he had no memorabilia, friends or support network with which to piece together his former life.
- In Red vs. Blue this ends up happening to Agent Maine, who became a soulless killing machine when he was manipulated by the AI fragment Sigma to get more AI fragments and reconstruct the original AI they were fragmented off of. Notably, even after all the AIs were killed in an EMP explosion, he remained the same, his mind having been destroyed long ago.
- Nearly happens in WALL•E after Eve repairs Wall-E from near-fatal damage. He appears to lose all his memory and personality, until she "kisses" him with an electric spark that reverts him back to normal.
- In Brave, Merida and Elinor must Race Against the Clock to break the spell that gave Elinor a bear's body or she will lose her humanity and become like any other non-sapient bear.
- In Don Hertzfeldt's far-future Simpsons couch gag, the design of the characters and the show changes so radically that by the year 10,535 the Simpson family has been reduced to a disturbing collection of caricatured mutants that can only sputter broken catchphrases and hock merchandise
- In Batman: The Animated Series, Clayface forms a portion of his body into a drone in the shape of a young girl. The drone gains autonomy and, with Robin's help, tries to avoid being re-merged into Clayface. Ultimately, Clayface does succeed in re-merging her, and Robin accuses him of murder.
- The Lich from Adventure Time is defeated in this way—he undergoes the Revive Kills Zombie trope and is reborn as an innocent (and giant) baby. Played with in that at least some part of the Lich's personality still exists inside said baby (and is implied to be trying to escape), but there doesn't seem to be much left of him at this point.