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Demoted Memories

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Alice used to be something great, or at least be a part of something great. For example a queen or a wizard, or a friend of either. She still remembers it, but she no longer believes in it. Instead, she has demoted her memories to the role of something lesser. She keeps telling herself that it was All Just a Dream, Fake Memories, insanity, overactive imagination, whatever...

Note that the greatness doesn't have to be a good thing, so she might have good reason to pretend it never really happened. In either case, her past is likely to catch up with her one day...


Sometimes a kind of retroactive Weirdness Censor from an Agent Scully who actually does know better but just won't admit it to herself. Maybe because a deep wish for Brain Bleach has turned her into a Consummate Liar. In either case, heavy doses of Double Think may be applied.

This is frequently a side effect of Amnesiac Dissonance. Compare That Man Is Dead, where someone remembers their past but has moved on to a new life and wants nothing more to do with the old one.



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    Comic Books 
  • In Starborn, the hero initially believes himself to have invented an entire Sci-Fi setting. However, it's actually his real background. He knew that as a kid, but his earthly foster father talked him out of believing such nonsense.
  • In Justice League of America, when the league defeats and captures the White Martians, they consider sending them to the Phantom Zone, but Martian Manhunter instead decides to use this punishment. The White Martians are soon given mind-wipes and mental blocks that remove all memory of who they really are and given the lives of normal humans. Manhunter's dialog suggests that this was a common punishment on Mars for particularly heinous crimes.

  • This ended up being one of the main plot devices in The Final Cut. The film opens with Alan's memory of him causing Louis to fall to his death when they were both kids, but when going through the memories of Charles Bannister, he finds a man who looks like Louis. Cue Alan's frantic search for the truth about his memories.
  • Happens in Hook: Peter Pan grew up in the real world and refuses to believe that he used to be Peter Pan, even when Captain Hook leaves him a note. Justified in that his adventures were actually recorded in the form of the Peter Pan mythos we know so he could more easily write it off as something he just picked up or read about.
  • In the movie Mary Poppins Returns, Jane and Michael, now grown up, talk about how they used to pretend their nanny took them on magic adventures. But it was only their imaginations... right?
  • Late in the film 12 Monkeys, Cole starts to believe he really is just an escaped schizophrenic and not a time-traveler.

  • The Philip K. Dick story "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale" (heavily changed for the 1990 movie adaptation Total Recall (1990).) The protagonist's vivid fantasies of being a secret agent on Mars lead him to request that Fake Memories of the same be implanted by a company that does this as a sort of virtual vacation. Except that the fantasy turns out to have been actual memories due to an incomplete mind wipe. Then the company tries layering over the now returned memories with an even more grandiose childhood fantasy he had about saving the world from an alien invasion with compassion. Turns out that really happened too.
  • This seems to be happening to Kinbote at various points in Pale Fire, though it really picks up near the end.
  • In The Chronicles of Narnia, Susan gradually develops a refusal to believe in her own life. In the last book, she refuses to believe that any of her adventures ever happened. This saves her life, which is not a good thing in this kind of setting: she's left behind on Earth while everyone else go to heaven to be Pals With Aslan. Her disbelief is a very drastic step, considering she spent at least a decade as queen of Narnia. After leaving Earth the first time, she practically grew up in Narnia. While an immigrant, it is her home as much as England is. So, why does she disbelieve her memories? Well, there are two ways to interpret the situation:
    • The narrative solution: The Last Battle is very much an Author Tract against the faithless and people who abuse religion to further their own ends. Susan is the Straw Loser for the "people who have abandoned their faith" category. This impression is reinforced by how no other characters try to understand her. Instead, they simply dismiss her as a shallow idiot who has taken a Face Bimbo Turn.
    • The psychological solution, considering the Fridge Horror of the series (and thus, an Alternate Character Interpretation): for a character in Susan's position, it's quite realistic to be so emotionally traumatized that she tries to flee from her memories and pretend none of it ever happened. In the second book, she and her siblings got dropped into another world and drafted to be Child Soldiers. After surviving the war she became queen, spending the rest of her youth as royalty of her new home country. Then as an adult, she's suddenly cast out of her new home and reverted to childhood. When she get sucked into Narnia again (quite painfully, and as always without her consent), it is a land ravaged by brutal oppression. She is again forced to become a Child Soldier, suffering through the horrors of war. When the dust has finally settled and she has done her part, she is again cast out - and this time informed that she will never be allowed to come home again.
    • In fact it's much simpler than that; Susan is social-minded and trying to fit in with her crowd, pushing memories of childhood wonder aside are part of that. According to Lewis, his point was that we are free to turn away from Grace. He further said that Susan might well return to Narnia someday, in her own time and her own way. Susan has not been 'cast out'. It is she who has cast Aslan and Narnia out of her life but she retains the option of inviting them back in. 'Once a Queen in Narnia, always a Queen'. The choice is entirely her own.
  • In Harry Potter, Aunt Petunia is portrayed as this trope. Then it's revealed that she has simply been lying, pretending out of spite to not believe in magic.
  • The Pat Cadigan short story "This is Your Life (Repressed Memory Remix)" involves a therapist trying to convince a woman that her happy childhood memories are a cover for Repressed Memories of her father sexually abusing her. The ruse has already worked on her brother.
  • In Three Hearts and Three Lions, engineering student Holger Dansk is troubled by odd memories and half-recalled dreams of another place. It takes a near-Death experience when fighting for the Danish Resistance to trigger the truth: he is really the Danish take on King Arthur, recalled to life in a strange otherworld to fight for the soul of his country against alien invasion.
  • In The Last Unicorn, the unicorn-turned-human "Lady Amalthea" starts to believe that her memories of being a unicorn are just Recurring Dreams as her humanity becomes more real.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The demotion of memories is a core function of the "Prosedür" in 7 Yüz. The procedure doesn't erase Banu's memories of dating Rıdvan, but rather displaces their significance. The memories are still there — they just aren't as important or emotionally relevant to her.
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, this is the fate the demon of the episode "Normal Again" had in store for Buffy: she would be tricked into killing all her friends and then spend the rest of her life telling herself that they never existed and that she was never the slayer. That all her memories of Sunnydale were made up in her own head while she was a psychotic living in a mental institution.
  • An episode of Charmed has the same plot as in the above Buffy example, with the addition that if Piper falls for it, the demon can steal her and her sisters' powers.
  • Variant: Toward the end of Dollhouse, Echo seems to prefer retaining her composite identity to the possibility of regaining the memories of Caroline Farrell despite that being the original memory and personality set.
    • Done more directly with Senator Daniel Perrin's discovery that he is actually a "doll" with altered memories.
  • This turns up in Doctor Who series 3, when the Chameleon Arch makes the Doctor and the Master human with a false identity.
  • In Smallville episode "Labyrinth", Clark wakes up in a mental hospital with vivid memories of being a superhero who has saved countless lives. However, the staff insists he's severely schizophrenic and the memories are his mind's attempts to feel safe and special. None of the powers he thinks he should have work and kryptonite is harmless. Confused, Clark slowly starts to believe the staff, but one patient, John, urges him to refuse treatment or it will allow Dr. Hudson, a phantom zone escapee, to take control of Clark's body and powers. The only way to regain control is to kill Dr. Hudson. Clark must decide if he really has superpowers and needs to kill his psychiatrist or if he actually needs to be treated for a schizophrenic break.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In KULT, this is a core part of several recommended character backgrounds. The character starts out as a normal human with a denied supernatural or at least abnormal background.

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