Follow TV Tropes


Delirious Misidentification

Go To

When a character is ill, delirious, hurt, drugged or otherwise mentally compromised, they will often assume another person coming close to them is someone recognizable to them:

  • Mistaken for Loved One: The person may mistake them for their family, friends, comrades, a mentor or student. Often, the implication is that they think said loved one is there to help them. The "helper" will either play along to comfort them (especially if they're dying), or try to explain their real identity. It becomes dangerous if they mistake an enemy for a loved one.
  • Mistaken for Enemy: This usually happens when they get delirious in the midst of battle, often mistaking their comrades coming to help them for a foe trying to finish them off. Or when the delirious one is suffering from Brainwashed and Crazy, Face–Monster Turn or similar, their newly conditioned mind will make them think that everyone's out to get them.

Often the confused person will be so out of it they won't pay any attention to the other person's words as they try to explain their true identity.

When the deliriousness is caused by hypnotism/illusion (often a common tactic for a Master of Illusion) or hallucinogens, there could be a plot centered on how to stop these influences.

A common variant of this trope is for a ghost (or other type of undead character) who has Unfinished Business to mistake living people for someone they knew when they were alive. Ghosts are often found harassing people who bear a vague resemblance to someone they knew while alive, people who share their other qualities, or just flat-out everyone they encounter.

A Sub-Trope of Mistaken Identity. May involve Waking Non Sequitur or Non Sequitur, *Thud*, and may cause a Comfort the Dying scenario. See also Set a Mook to Kill a Mook for when this is exploited — by making the mook think the other mooks are their enemies.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Played for Drama in Basilisk Kouga Ninpu Chuu: As Hotarubi loses her fight with the shapeshifter Saemon and is fatally injured, she mistakes him for her boyfriend Yashamaru, whom Saemon had been impersonating. Saemon allows her to die thinking that he's Yashamaru, who had died some time ago.
  • Bleach: Aizen once subtly trapped Hitsugaya and others in his illusion shikai, making them believe that his subordinate Momo was Aizen himself. It didn't end well: they almost kill poor Momo under such effects, and Hitsugaya has a screaming Heroic BSoD when he realizes it.
  • The Psychopathic Manchild Miata in post-Time Skip Claymore comes to view her partner Clarice as her surrogate mother (after Clarice is forced by awkward circumstances to breast-feed her).
  • In a Code Geass gag comicnote , Suzaku, half asleep at a school slumber party, mistook Rivalz in a Zero costume for the actual Zero. Rivalz ends up in the hospital.
  • Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children: When Kadaj is dying, Aerith's spirit approaches him to guide him to the Lifestream. Kadai mistakes her for Jenova, his "mother", and she plays along so he can die in peace.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Golden Wind: After Bucciarati (who, prior to this point, has already been a corpse clinging to life by sheer determination alone—and after suffering tremendous injury in a previous battle, even that isn't enough) fends off Secco, he mistakes Doppio for Trish due to their similar spiritual signature. Delirious and tired, he talks to the percieved Trish about how he plans to leave his seaside cottage to her after all is settled as Doppio listens silently.
  • Played for Laughs in One Piece Film: Strong World. Shiki sometimes mistakes his subordinate Scarlet for his mother.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman: Black and White: In "Leavetaking", an injured and delirious Batman misidentifies the various passers-by who stop to talk to him as Robin, Alfred, and Commissioner Gordon.
  • Hellboy: In "A Christmas Underground", Hellboy visits an old woman on her deathbed who mistakes him for Father Christmas.
  • Robin (1993): During Batman: No Man's Land Tim Drake briefly mistakes the girl from a strange enclave of kids living in the Gotham underground for his father when he's suffering from a high fever accompanied by light hallucinations.
  • Spider-Man: In the Beyond! Miniseries, Peter Parker is dying and proceeds to tell Medusa that he loves her (mistaking her for Mary Jane on account of her red hair). Medusa realises what he actually means and is so moved that she tries to avenge him.
  • Supergirl: In the Supergirl Special one-shot, as Power Girl is putting an aging, injured security guard in an ambulance, the man tells her "Thanks, Supergirl. You're my favorite", mistaking her for her alternate self.
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: On the couple of occasions Steve Trevor "mistakes" Diana Prince for Wonder Woman and vice versa he and Diana brush it off as caused by the head injury in one case and drugs in another causing him a spot of delirium.

    Fan Works 
  • Invoked in The Concubine Mo Chronicles when the feverish Imperial Brother forgets his reincarnated lover is supposed to stay undercover and calls him by his true name in front of the Emperor, the physician and the servants, which forces the lover to act as if this trope was in play. It's helped by the Emperor believing his brother took a concubine as a Replacement Goldfish for the lover because of physical similarities, making a mistake not unlikely.
  • Dear Diary: A dying Prima mistakes the Audino nurse for Opal, who was forcibly kept away from her. The nurse decides to go with it to let her die happy.
  • The Desert Storm: After getting stabbed by Pong Krell while trying to protect Quinlan, Ben hallucinates that he's fighting Grievous and is protecting Anakin. This causes Ben to use the Force to remove "Grievous's" limbs, nearly ripping off Krell's arms in the process. Considering who the victim is, Ben isn't that sorry about it, rather to the disturbance of his fellow Jedi.
  • Eleutherophobia: At the climax of The Thing from Another World, Tom and Alloran enter Marco's room to tell him how he's going to be cured of The Virus. Marco freaks out because thinks they're still Controllers and are going to infest him.
  • In Familiar Taste of Poison a feverish Steve mistakes Tony for Howard before falling unconscious.
  • In Gold Poisons, an ill, delirious Lan Xichen mistakes his younger brother for their father and starts tearfully admitting to various failings. This one is an especially justifiable case, as the Twin Jades are said to resemble their father closely.
  • In Legends Never Die Steve Rogers, dying and delirious, thinks Tony, who is trying to comfort him, is Howard Stark - Tony's father and Steve's wartime comrade. Especially angsty because Tony has major issues with Howard - while Steve knew the young, warm hearted and friendly Howard, by the time Tony was born war time trauma had turned Howard into a bitter and neglectful parent. Normally Tony despises any comparison to Howard, but this time he chooses to play along because, as he puts it:
    Tony: Howard is someone Steve will be able to cling to for protection. Tony is someone Steve feels bound to protect. It might be a little easier for him if he thinks he is with Howard, with someone to whom he can admit he's afraid, he's hurting. If he no longer wastes what little is left of his life, his strength, trying to stay stoic for Tony.
  • Lost to Dust:
    • When she gets a concussion, Blake briefly mistakes Miltia and Melanie Malachite for Ruby and Weiss due to their similar color schemes.
    • When Weiss gets drunk, she mistakes Oda Nobunaga for Ruby.
  • Our Time Is Now: In The Ripple Effect, Eric tries to kill Jerrica but he accidentally attacks Deidre in his mentally ill state. He can't tell the difference between the two blondes.
  • A feverish and near-death Roy in The Planets mistakes Winry for Riza. Riza's recent death was the entire reason he lost his arm in the first place.
  • In Scrooge Van Winkle, an exhausted Scrooge mistakes Lena for Webby. Lena plays along and pretends she is an older Webby and Scrooge was in the money bin longer then he thought.
  • So We'd Both Be Free: On his deathbed, an ill Ozai mistakes his daughter Azula for her mother Ursa.
  • Star Wars Vs Warhammer 40 K: Early in the Second Battle of Axum, a Primaris Psyker named Gaksian collapses to the ground after fatally overusing his psyker abilities to save his Imperial Guard unit from a Jedi ambush. Gak is picked up by an Ogryn named Runk, who he can barely make out in his dying state and initially misidentifies as Sly Marbo upon slowly regaining his vision.
  • After being poisoned in a botched assassination attempt in Your Son, a delirious Edward mistakes Mustang for his father, thinking he finally came back. Mustang, already feeling guilty due to being the assassin's intended target, plays along.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Atonement, Briony, working as a nurse during World War II, is asked to sit with a dying soldier to keep him company. The soldier mistakes her for a girl he'd met years earlier, and she struggles to play the role for him.
  • This is a Running Gag throughout the Back to the Future film series, with Marty blearily waking up in a number of strange beds and saying "Mom? Mom, is that you?" Subverted in that at least once the person with him was his mother - albeit somewhat younger than he'd anticipated.
  • In The Immortals, a mortally wounded Tim is tripping on acid and thinks the returning Billy is the Angel of Death and attempts to shoot him.
  • While undergoing brain surgery in Saw III, John hallucinates that he's back with his ex-wife Jill, mistaking Lynn (a married woman) for her and telling her, "Love... I love you." This makes Amanda jealous.
  • In Vice (2015), Evan is shot while protecting Kelly from more of Vice's thugs on the docks, and dies in her arms while mistakenly addressing her as "Michelle"; the name of his late wife for whom Kelly is a Replacement Goldfish.

  • Deeplight: The elderly priest Pale Soul often mistakes Hark for an acolyte he once knew, named Flint. Hark exploits it, both to help him care for Pale Soul (who is easily agitated, but much calmer around Hark) and to get information from him
  • Honor Harrington: In The Shadow of Saganami, a minor character, severely injured after a Marine raid, mistakes a Manticoran doctor for his superior in the Kornatian resistance and tries to give him a report. While most of the report was incomprehensible even with Manticoran sound enhancement tech, they made out enough to blow the Mesan Alignment's plot.
  • Hurog: In Dragon Bones, Ward's constantly drug-addled (to the point that one can assume her brain is damaged) mother mistakes him for his own father. In a more dramatic example, Oreg, who has been a slave to Ward's male ancestors for centuries mistakes him for a man that had treated him very badly, while he is having a PTSD-triggered flashback to the time when it happened. He can't hurt Ward physically, but this moment is when Ward realizes that this nasty ancestor was his worshipped idol, the one he wanted to be like. Not anymore. Oreg later tries to comfort him by pointing out that the guy wasn't all bad, but it doesn't help much, as that was Ward's only role model.
  • In Hurricane Gold, Manny hits his head badly and becomes delirious because of it. This causes him to think that Bond is his long-dead brother, which Bond uses to his advantage.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, Robert Baratheon, very drunk after his own wedding, misidentified his new (arranged) wife Cersei Lannister as his true love interest, Lyanna Stark. This made Cersei hate him and totally ruined their chance to build anything resembling a loving family... which later led to very serious political consequences, because, you know, they were king and queen of Westeros.
  • Sword of Truth: In Temple of the Winds, when Cara is rendered catatonic by Jagang, a hooded healer comes to treat her. Once Cara opens her eyes, she looks at him and asks "Lord Rahl?" (that is, Richard). The man immediately lowers his hood and announces himself to be Drefan, Richard's half brother. At first, Kahlan is confused why Cara would mistake him for Richard (the family resemblance is strong, but not that strong), but then realizes she mistook Drefan for Darken Rahl, Richard's Evil Overlord father, whom Drefan resembles much more.
  • Warrior Cats: In A Dangerous Path, the confused elder Graypool mistakes the Big Bad Tigerstar for her former Clanmate Oakheart. She accidentally reveals one of Oakheart's secrets to Tigerstar, and sadly she dies right afterward when Tigerstar gets impatient with her and snarls at her, causing her to have a bad fall.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Babylon 5:
    • In the episode "Shadow Dancing", Stephen Franklin is delirious from loss of blood and hallucinates that the medical orderlies wheeling his stretcher into Medlab are Delenn and Sheridan.
    • The first season episode "And the Sky Full of Stars'' has Sinclair being kidnapped and forced into a drug and cyber induced hallucinogenic state which forces him to relive his missing 24 hours after the Battle of the Line. When he finally breaks free of it, he starts wandering around the station, but whenever he sees anyone, he thinks they're robed Minbari, causing him to shoot at anyone he encounters, except for Delenn, who he realized was there as part of the Grey Council when he was captured by the Minbari, and gives him the clarity of mind to snap out of it.
  • In an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Willow is unconscious in a hospital room and Xander is sitting with her, finally telling her how much he loves her. Then she wakes up, and thinks that it was her boyfriend Oz talking to her.
  • Happens briefly on Cheers when Sam tries to hotwire Cliff's car and gets an electric shock for his efforts.
    Frasier: Sam, are you alright?
    Sam: Diane?
  • In Cobra Kai, a drunk Johnny talks to Miguel about how sorry he is and how he really wants to be a good dad, only to mistakenly call Miguel "Robby" the name of his biological but estranged son. Miguel is visibly heartbroken by this. What's worse, Robby earlier taunted Miguel by saying Johnny sees him only as a Replacement Goldfish for his real son and Johnny's misidentification seemingly confirms his fears.
  • Played for Laughs in El Chavo del ocho. While Sleep Walking, Doña Cleotile mistakes Don Ramón for her "yellow-chested sparrow" who recently escaped its cage. Not like she's complaining anyway when she wakes up and realizes the mistake.
  • Doctor Who: In "The Empty Child"/"The Doctor Dances", the titular child, mortally injured by a bomb and brought back wrong by alien nanotechnology, can only say "Are you my mummy?" while transforming anyone he touches into a copy of himself. This case is more than it seems, however, as it turns out that one of the people he's haunting really is his mother.
  • An episode of The Dumping Ground has Gina, one of the careworkers, bring her mum, who is suffering from Alzheimer's, to Elm Tree House. At one point, Hattie (Gina's mum) is giving a shopping list and grabs hold of Faith's arm (one of the kids), mistaking her for Gina, telling her where not to buy the food. Faith, however, keeps her cool and tells Hattie she understands. Later in the episode, Hattie goes missing from Elm Tree House and is found at a bus stop. Faith pretends to be Gina in front of Hattie, which she falls for, to convince her to come back to Elm Tree House.
  • Played with (for laughs) in an episode of Full House. Recovering from anesthesia following his appendectomy, Jesse recognizes Danny, but does not recall his name and even insists that his name is not Danny, then fails to recognize his wife or remember that she's at the hospital to give birth.
    Jesse: I get a wife and a baby in the same day... radical.
  • A Played for Laughs example from Gilligan's Island. The Skipper poses as a hostile native to get the Howells back together after they have a fight and gets hit on the head. He staggers off. Gilligan goes after him and asks Skipper twice if he's all right. The second time he says, "For the last time, I'm all right, Mary Ann!"
  • British comedy The IT Crowd:
    • In the very first episode the character Roy receives a major head wound and proceeds to call fellow character Moss his mum, before thinking a phone is ringing, picking up and answering something that wasn't a phone, then lying down on the floor.
    • And in the same series of the show, Roy calls a psychiatrist his mum after sleeping with her, which the psychiatrist finds "very interesting". Earlier in the episode when he first met her he had commented on how much she looked like his mom. It became somewhat of a Running Gag for the episode.
  • House of the Dragon: Alicent is tending to Viserys late in the night, when he mistakes her for Rhaenyra. He rambles about Aegon saving the realm, which Alicent naturally thinks is referring to their son, and claims the Prince That Was Promised to be "you" before passing away. Civil war ensures.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power: King Tar-Palantír mistakes Eärien for his daughter in his dying moments. He leads her to his secret chamber where she discovers the palantír.
  • M*A*S*H:
    • One episode has a dying patient mistake Nurse Kellye for his girlfriend from home. Kellye goes along with it because that's the kind of compassionate person she is.
    • Another episode plays this for laughs when a sick and delirious Frank mistakes Margaret, his lover, for his wife, and, immediately afterward, for his receptionist (with whom, it's implied, he was also having an affair).
  • Downplayed in an episode of NYPD Blue. The main character for the first season was John Kelly, who got Put on a Bus partway through the second season. There is another character named John Irvin who is a PAA (civilian aide) working in another part of the 15th squad building. Detective Martinez has been shot and is going to go into surgery. John Irvin comes by the hospital and gives a cross to Martinez's partner Medevoy to pass along to him, saying it's good luck. When Medevoy gives the cross to Martinez and says it's from John, Martinez asks "John Kelly?" Medavoy replies no, it was Upstairs John.
  • In an episode of Smallville Clark is very sick with a fever. Chloe comes over and pours her heart out to him in a letter. He says just one word - Lana, the one he is in love with. Crushed, Chloe leaves.
  • One episode of Space Cases saw Radu and Bova trapped on a shuttle and running out of oxygen. Suffering from oxygen starvation, Radu starts hallucinating that Bova is Suzee, who's back on the ship.
  • In the Stargate Atlantis episode "Phantoms", Sheppard, hallucinating under the influence of an alien device, mistakes Teyla for his wingman who was killed in action in Afghanistan and McKay and Ronan for Taliban soldiers, so he tries to protect her and attack them.
    Sheppard: I'm sorry for shooting everyone.
  • In the British mini-series To the Ends of the Earth, protagonist Edmund Talbot receives a concussion and spends a considerable amount of time in bed dreaming/hallucinating. He wakes up briefly at one point with one of his fellow passengers bathing his forehead and mistakes her for his old governess.

    Mythology & Religion 
  • Classical Mythology:
    • The demigod Alcides once suffered a fit of madness (sent by Hera to punish her philandering husband's children, as usual) that caused him to see his own wife and children as enemies, and he murdered them without knowing who they were. When he snapped out of it, he went to his cousin to be purified of his sins. Said cousin ended up sending him to do various impossible tasks as penance, hoping to get rid of him, while the hero took on the name "Herakles" ("Glory of Hera") in the hopes of forestalling more interference on her part.
    • During the Trojan War, Ajax of Telamon was furious that the armor and weapons of Achilles were given to Odysseus instead of him. He got good and drunk, during which bender he ran into a flock of sheep and proceeded to brutally murder them, thinking he was getting vengeance on Odysseus, Agammemnon, and Menelaus. When he snapped out of it, he killed himself out of shame (either for throwing such a tantrum, or because he could remember boasting of killing the three heroes).

  • In Lucia Di Lammermoor, at one point during Lucia's Mad Scene, her brother Enrico bursts into the room to berate her for murdering her husband, and in her madness she thinks he's her lover Edgardo cursing her for marrying another man. In some performances, she even tries to give Enrico a romantic kiss.
  • In The Tsars Bride, in Marfa's madness scene, she mistakes her Yandere suitor Gryaznoi for her fiancé Lykov whom the former has just killed. It causes Gryaznoi to break down in remorse.

    Video Games 
  • Implied to be the case with the Confusion status effect in many RPGs, when it causes its targets to attack their allies.
  • In Dark Souls, Quelaag's nameless ill sister mistakes you, the Player Character, for her, because she is continuously wrecked by a horrific disease to the point of blindness. To make matters worse, you have to have killed Quelaag to meet her sister, and the game doesn't miss a chance to rub it in.
  • Dawn of War II: After being interred in a Dreadnought, Davian Thule mistakes Thaddeus for Gabriel Angelos, telling him "the secrets of Cyrene lie safe with me". Once he gets better used to it, he no longer gets anyone mixed up.
  • Diablo II: Marius, who has gone completely insane, is telling of the events that occured in the backstory of the game to a visitor, who he thinks is the Archangel Tyrael, culminating with the ruined man entrusting Tyrael with Baal's soulstone. Then he discovers that his visitor isn't Tyrael—it's none other than Baal himself.
  • The premise for Injustice: Gods Among Us is that in an alternate reality, the Joker gassed Superman with a drug that made him see Lois Lane as Doomsday, whom Superman then proceeded to beat to death (offscreen). To make matters worse, the atomic bomb that the Joker rigged up was synced to Lois' heart rate. Once she died, the entire city of Metropolis was destroyed. This forces Superman past the Moral Event Horizon, turning the entire world into a police state where he believes Utopia Justifies the Means.
  • Early in Kingdom Hearts, after getting knocked out in a fight against Squall, Sora thinks he sees Kairi talking to him about the Heartless when he wakes up, but it's actually Yuffie.
  • Monkey IslandL
    • One of Guybrush's go-to Non Sequitur, *Thud* lines is, "My name is Bobbin. Are you my mother?" This is a reference to Loom.
    • More seriously, in Tales of Monkey Island, when Guybrush is mortally wounded in Elaine's arms, he mumbles, "Is that you, mother? I washed my hands..."
  • Onmyōji (2016):
    • Once Awakened, Yōkinshi can cause his enemies to become confused and whack each other using his music.
    • Equipping a shikigami with at least four Miyō (Enchantress) mitama gives them a 25% chance to accomplish this. Four Mōryō no Hako (Box of Demons) mitama grant a 25% chance to give foes random Status Effects and Delirious Misidentification is one of them.
  • Near the end of Spec Ops: The Line you fight a Heavy Trooper that Walker perceives as his dead squadmate, Lugo. This only happens once per game; if you die while fighting him, the game will spawn a normal Heavy Trooper when you're revived at the last checkpoint.
  • In Spiritfarer, one of the spirits that Stella must escort to the afterlife is Alice, an elderly hedgehog whose mind is rapidly degenerating from dementia. When it comes around for her time to go, she has no memory of who Stella is, leaving Stella to pretend to be Alice's granddaughter Annie as she assists her to the Everdoor.
  • The Suffering: Ties That Bind features a drug addict kid (suffering withdrawal) mistaking the protagonist for his father. Unlike most examples it's played for drama rather than laughs (you have the choice between letting him die or escorting him to his friend's stash).

    Visual Novels 
  • In the first Paramedium game, the senile Mrs Clansey ends up mistaking Nina for her daughter (whom she killed in what might have been a botched attempt to induce miscarriage) and mistaking Lance for her daughter's boyfriend (who had gotten her daughter pregnant and whom she may have killed too).
  • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: The old man in the boat rental shop mistakes Phoenix and Maya for his children Keith and Meg respectfully. He asks them to take over his pasta shop (that also rents out boats). However, it turns out that he was faking his dementia the whole time.

  • In Girl Genius, Gil misidentifies everything for a while after being thrown against a wall by a clank and being in pain from a number of previous injuries. He spends a number of pages convinced that he's in Paris, rescuing Damsel in Distress Zola from a number of deadly traps without realising.
    Gil: (to a suit of armour) Pardonnez-moi, monsieur, mais où est la catastrophe?
  • Something*Positive:
    • An Alzheimer's-afflicted Fred mistakes PeeJee for his late wife, Faye. She plays along to give Fred one more moment with his beloved.
    • Other instances of this are much less sweet and more bitter: His adopted daughter Monette calls him during an emotional crisis but is brushed off under the belief she's just one of Davan's long-dead friends. Fred's pseudo-grandson Rory is similarly mistaken for a different dead childhood friend.

    Web Videos 
  • Ultra Fast Pony: In "The Longest Wedding", Celestia loses a Beam-O-War and gets blasted. Twilight Sparkle rushes over to her side, and Celestia says, "Santa? Is that you?"

    Western Animation 
  • In Futurama, a delirious Fry invokes this trope toward Nibbler (who's coshed him) as he comes to in the latter's spaceship.
    Fry: Are you my mommy?
    Nibbler: Negative.
  • The Legend of Korra: In one episode, a delirious Lin briefly imagines fifteen-year-old Suyin standing at the door talking to her. It's actually Korra.
  • Mickey Mouse (2013): In "Shifting Gears", a delirious Mickey mutters "Is that you, Walt?"
  • Rugrats (1991): In "Reptar's Revenge", after Angelica takes an incredibly fast and nauseating spin on a carnival ride.
    Didi: Honey, are you okay?
    Angelica: I think so, Uncle Stu.
  • Star Wars Rebels: In "Visions and Voices", Ezra hallucinates a rebel soldier as Maul, and nearly kills him before Kanan manages to snap him out of it.

    Real Life 
  • A rare side effect of anaesthesia is that people can sometimes have memory problems immediately after waking up. As a result of this, there's a famous online video involving a man who can't get over the fact the beautiful woman with him after his operation is the woman he married years ago.
  • According to this Cracked article (number 1 at the bottom), ISIS commander Mohammed Fares mistook allies taking him off the field for medical attention for members of the government militia, and decided to confuse his apparent captors by chanting prayers that made him sound Shia instead of Sunni. Apparently his allies didn't recognize him either, because this move got him his head chopped off.