In many stories, there are some experiences that are so horribly mind-shattering that the usual result is stark raving madness. We're not just talking about mundane Shell Shock here, that'd be the trope called Heroic BSoD. Instead we're talking about a full-fledged Freak Out!, or possibly even as bad as a FaceHeel Turn. If you Go Mad from the Revelation, you're gonna have some sort of psychotic break.
This is a signature characteristic of an Eldritch Abomination and one of the central tropes of the Cosmic Horror genre, but other things can cause it as well, such as prolonged torture or learning some other Thing that Man Was Not Meant to Know.
There is generally a distinction between things that happen to the mind because of experience and things that are done to the brain. This trope is the former. Thus, insanity caused by drugs, a telepathic attack, or a specific, quasi-magical effect (like a Brown Note) doesn't qualify. Contrast those things with the Shoggoths, who strain people's sanity in spite of never having that as a stated special ability the thought of them is just that horrible. Confronting a Creature From Beyond The Stars or a Thing That Should Not Exist will lead either to psychological regression into denial, or insanity when the cognitive dissonance becomes too great. H. P. Lovecraft was fond of these; his stories abound with creatures from regions of space where the known laws of nature do not apply, and geometries that violate the laws of physics.
This almost could have been Truth in Television, insofar as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a real mental illness, but a character who Goes Mad from the Revelation usually is portrayed in a more generic insanity.
Sometimes, if you whack someone with the "insane stick" enough times, they'll get Bored with Insanity.
The main inspiration for this trope is the work of H. P. Lovecraft, whose story The Call of Cthulhu is the Trope Namer. Occurs in most of his work and a good deal of Lovecraft-inspired work that use Mad Gods and Eldritch Abominations, indeed Cthulhu-inspired RPGs often make this a game mechanic. Will be mostly absent from stories where you can punch out Cthulhu successfully.
The extreme form of a Freak Out!. May take the form of a Heroic BSoD where the thing isn't going to start working again. If the whole nature of the Universe is opened to you because of your velocity, this is Ludicrous Speed.
Compare with Brain Bleach (the character is afflicted by squicky mental images), Brain Fever (the character is made ill by mental stress and trauma), My God, What Have I Done? (the character is wracked with remorse), and My Skull Runneth Over (the character is overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information stuffed into his brain). See also A Form You Are Comfortable With for a way to avoid this. Often goes hand-in-hand with the Despair Event Horizon, to the point where a number of examples on this page can be found on the other as well.
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- In Big Hero 6, Hiro discovers that Professor Callahan is alive and was Yokai the whole time, and that his brother Tadashi died for nothing, prompting him to reprogram Baymax into a killing machine to destroy him.
- In Frozen, Elsa fled her kingdom Arendelle and built her own ice palace on a distant mountain, mistakenly believing that Arendelle would be safe from her dangerous power. When Anna delivers the news that Elsa in fact unleashed an eternal winter, Elsa is sent into a flurry of panic that leads her to freeze Anna's heart.
- Toy Story — Buzz Lightyear ends up doing this after discovering he is indeed only a toy and not a Space Ranger as he previously believed. He snaps out of it later, though.
- "Scared" by Three Days Grace.
- This appears to be what happens to the man in the suit and then to everyone else in the video for Radiohead's "Just". The revelation itself is kept from the audience.
- One of several possible meanings behind Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy", as suggested by several people on SongMeanings.
- The Brazilian song "Samba do Crioulo Doido" (Crazy Nigger's Samba) is about a samba writer who was forced to learn Brazilian history to fit the state law of historical Carnival themes. Then forcing him to learn current politics (when Brazil was under a dictatorship!) drove the crioulo nuts and he wrote one hell of an Anachronism Stew.
- "Roads to Madness" by Queensryche is a pretty explicit invocation of this trope.
"Black, the door was locked I opened / And now I've paid that price ten-fold over / Knowledge - was it worth such torment, oh / To see the far side of shadow"
- According to The Talmud, there were four famous rabbis who were exposed to the mysteries of Creation: Ben-'Azai, Ben-Zoma, Elisha' ben-Abuya, and 'Akiva ben-Yosef. The first died, the second went mad, the third became an apostate (due to misunderstanding what he saw), and only the fourth one remained faithful.
- The myth of the Kunekune
- In Gustav Schwab's ballad "Der Reiter und der Bodensee", a traveler lost in the snow unknowingly rides right across Lake Constance — the ice wouldn't normally be strong enough but it happens to be an exceptionally cold winter. When he arrives at a village and asks where he is, he realizes what he's done, imagines the cold abyss that was under his horse's feet, and dies of terror.
- In The Goon Show episode "Lurgi Strikes Britain" Neddie Seagoon goes bonkers after realising how Grytpype and Moriarty have duped him, and starts yelling gibberish - the main symptom of the fake eponymous disease.
- Lo Zoo Di 105: Show host Marco Mazzoli has, in late February 2012, found out that former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi got away with yet another one of his trials. He didn't take it well.
Mazzoli: "And they have the balls to have the sentence "Law is the same for everyone" written inside courtrooms! I'LL TELL YOU WHAT, IF I EVER HAPPEN TO BE SUED, THE FIRST THING I DO IN THE COURTROOM, I SWEAR TO GOD, I'M GOING TO TAKE A SHIT ON THAT PHRASE!"
- Brand: The trope may also be played out on Agnes, because she has a very clear revelation at the end of the fourth act, citing the biblical thesis that those that see God, dies from it. Agnes dies shortly after this.
- Hamlet: The eponymous character is sent awry by being told that his uncle had killed his father, by the ghost of his father. Hamlet himself believes he is merely pretending to be mad but it is made clear to the audience that he is no longer playing with a full deck.
- Not really. It's never made clear if Hamlet really is mad or just pretending to be for his own purposes. He becomes far more lucid when he's either alone or with only Horatio. In any case, people have been debating on the subject for several hundred years, and are still doing so today.
- Horatio warns Hamlet that the ghost might do this to him, and the ghost himself warns that just "telling" Hamlet about purgatory could do it:
"Hor." What if it tempt you toward the flood, my lord... and there assume some other, horrible form which might deprive [you] of reason and draw you into madness?
"Ghost" I could a tale unfold whose lightest word would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood, [etc., etc.]
- We also have the case of Ophelia, who certainly could be played this way. Consider her lines after her only on-stage confrontation with Hamlet:
Ophelia: Woe is me, to have seen what I´ve seen, see what I see...
- Ophelia might possibly have gone mad from her own revelation.
- Oedipus Rex discovers that he's sleeping with his mother. He then cuts out his eyes.
- A Streetcar Named Desire: Stanley rapes Blanche in an attempt to invoke Rape Portrayed as Redemption, but Blanche, who's already a little nutty, has a total breakdown instead and falls into permanent insanity. It really is as heartbreaking and disturbing as it sounds.
- In Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Tobias Ragg goes insane upon finding out just what Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett have been getting up to in the evil basement (in particular what is actually in the pies he's been eating). By the time he gets out of the basement, his hair has gone completely white and he eventually slits the title character's throat with his own razor before proceeding to continue to turn the crank on the grinder. In the film version, the killing sequence is more of a calm Tranquil Fury than anything else.
- Tren Krom probing one's mind may cause this, because the target gets to see his mind as well.
- Makuta Teridax wrote something called The Plan. Zaktan tried to read it, but it broke his mind completely. And Zaktan going insane from reading part of it might have been part of The Plan.
- Most of the characters in the visual novel Saya no Uta are absolutely nuts by the time two of the three endings are over. Ryouko Tanbou, Fuminori's doctor, particularly suffers. After witnessing the reality of Dr. Ougai's experiments more than a year before the story, she's a classic case of paranoia who through her own intelligence has kept her paranoia carefully hidden in every day interactions.
- During the course of the main story line Omi is described as going completely insane after seeing Saya in Fuminori's house (just before being murdered by her), and Yoh attempts to avoid seeing Saya because she knows that she will likely go mad as a result. Unfortunately for her, this doesn't help, because Saya has every intention of turning her into one of her own species. In the "bad" ending, where Saya and Fuminori are killed, Koji also loses his sanity after seeing Saya. It seems that the only people who don't have that response are Fuminori (who can't actually see what Saya looks like) and Dr. Ogai.
- A particularly bleak bad ending in Under the Moon shows the heroine driven into a delusional state after unleashing her magic in a moment of panic, unintentionally murdering all her friends with only her love interest left to care for her. There's also a variant version in which her lover gets caught in the blast too, leaving her all alone.
- Doki Doki Literature Club!:
- Monika gains Medium Awareness, and realizes she's a side character in a visual novel, which causes her to turn Yandere and start deleting the other heroines so she can have her own route and romance the player. Sayori in the final Act almost approaches this, but Monika steps in before she does any harm.
- If you delete "monika.chr" early from the game files, Sayori will inexplicably become club president and proceed to go insane due to gaining Medium Awareness, which results in a Non-Standard Game Over in which she ends up wiping all the characters from the game. Better hope you had backups of those files, or else you're going to have to reinstall the game.
- Sayaka Maizono goes through this in the killing game of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc . She starts as a Nice Girl with a crush on the protagonist, but when the mastermind, Monokuma, shows her a video where Sayaka's bandmates seem to have died, she goes nuts and wants to get out of there as soon as possible. Makoto tries to console her, and she seems to get better, but not really - she plans to murder a classmate and make Makoto take the fall for her in an attempt to get out and check up on her bandmates. This goes horribly wrong as she ends up killed by her would-be victim instead, and with her last breath, Sayaka leaves a Dying Clue pointing at the her killer, possibly to clear Makoto's name.
- Bravest Warriors has Beth's Horse, who was rendered almost completely catatonic after discovering the meaning of the universe.
Horse: Paralyzed Horse's Log, July 3rd 3085... Every day, I hear and I see eternity. I am frozen in awe of my knowledge of forever...
- John realizes what his father really is...
- And again when he finds out that Gushers are made by Betty Crocker. Subverted, though. THIS IS STUPID. Later Double Subverted when John turns out to be right in freaking out over Betty Crocker, as she actually is an evil alien tyrant.
- A more serious example occurs when after asking an omniscient cueball about whether the horrorterrors are good or evil, Rose goes grimdark. The scariest part is that we never get to see the answer ourselves. Again, it's shown to be subverted when she arrives on Skaia - she's still herself, (probably) sane and responds positively to meeting John, but she is far more aggressive and can only speak in incomprehensible Black Speech. After she dies and is revived on Derse, she returns to normal.
- The datasphere in 8-Bit Theater. Once Red Mage and Thief concluded that reading it would drive a normal man insane and an insane man normal, (or kill him,) they decided to try it on Black Mage. Once he was incapacitated, they called Fighter over...
- Who is fine. He even understood that the 612-dimensional sphere contained information concerning "every possible way to build any possible device to destroy every possible thing in all creation."
- While it did shut down his higher brain functions for some time, Black Mage snapped out of his condition pretty fast. For the record, Black Mage's face, currently hidden in the shadow of his hat, made Onion Kid go into a coma. He later said it felt like everything good was gone from the world...
- And lately, Red Mage got the idea of using the datasphere to learn how to destroy the monster currently inside himself, as it threatens to take over his body.
- Hilariously, the result was the death of the monster. And Red Mage was fine. If that makes sense, recall that Red Mage was the monster. Oh, and he might be catatonic.
- In Narbonic, this is how the Science-Related Memetic Disorder finally manifests itself.
- The Order of the Stick features "The mysterious Vaarsuvius, keeper of a thousand arcane secrets. And each one would drive you MAD! MAD!" V tends to boast.
- Captain SNES: The Game Masta: The entire series is about video game characters finding out their lives are simply video games, and their sorrows and such are for our amusement. They don't take it well. Except for Kefka, who, being a nihilist, feels he was vindicated
- We are all made of CORN!!!!!!!
- Checkerboard Nightmare had the minor character Shrodinger the Cat, who could see every possible reality simultaneously and was, naturally, driven insane by the information overload.
- In Sinfest, to a minor degree, this is why God does not show his face and uses the hand puppets. His showing an image of his face to two people caused a bit of a fight. Now imagine if He showed His face to a few more people...
- When Slick ate the Fruit of Knowledge and found out he was a cartoon character, he tried to kill himself by jumping off a cliff. That works out about as well as you'd think —except that the river was Lethe.
- Nodwick has a storyline about That Which Man Was Not Meant To Know, which has fallen into the hands of She Who Must Be Obeyed in the Lands That Know No Name. As it turns out, only men are not meant to know it. To women it's simply hysterically funny.
- Bloody Urban Has this happen to Murray after a visit from the IT Guy (who may or may not be Satan). It doesn't end well for him.
- Endtown: This is known as "Schism Syndrome." When a newer mutant who hasn't mentally adjusted to his new form is hit with an emotional shocknote , the mental stress can cause the mutant's mind to snap and become a danger to himself and others.
- Girl Genius: Effectively the main downside of becoming a Spark; they gain some sort of telepathic access to akashic knowledge, which gives them intellectual insight without training or knowledge by focusing their will on what they know or see. Unfortunately, this raw, unbridled understanding of the universe without the wisdom to control how they feel about it makes almost every spark in existence completely megalomaniacal and eager to exert their dominance with wacky inventions and overconfident idiocy, hence the tagline "Mad Scientists Rule The World. Badly". Even reasonably 'grounded' Sparks like the main character suffer frequent bouts of classic 1950's Mad Scientist.
- Invisible Games has this happen at least twice. In Killswitch a man acquires what may be the last surviving copy of the titular video game and promises to upload online videos of his playthrough. The only video he ever posts is of him staring at the camera and crying while the game runs on a screen in the background. Later, in The Pentintytär Arcade, after discovering the scene of a woman's suicide a young boy begins to play the set of unique video games she had constructed. The story that spans across the games haunts him for the rest of his life and drives him to relentlessly collect the games years after the set has been broken up and acquired by different collectors. He is last seen sitting naked among the game cabinets, crying and clutching a gun.
- In Shell, this is what happens to people when they look at the Eldritch Abomination.
- Visions of The Presence from Nine Inch Nails' "Year Zero" ARG can cause anything from euphoria to madness.
- Happens from time to time in the Whateley Universe because it is so near Lovecraft Country. When a demon manifests a small part of itself in downtown Los Angeles, Phase is the only witness (for more than a second or so) who doesn't go insane, and he requires psychic intervention and psychiatric therapy to cope with it afterwards. The demon eats or kills the other witnesses.
- The SCP Foundation secures any number of artifacts that could easily qualify, ranging from memetic cognitohazards that will infest your mind just from knowing about them, locations with psychic and/or dimensional instabilities that can induce madness, outright Eldritch Abominations able to Mind Rape you simply from exposure, to [DATA EXPUNGED]. And those are just a handful of categories of items the Foundation has allowed to be catalogued without absolute redaction of all knowledge on the subject.