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Loss of Identity

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You can't go home again if "you" never left.

"You say you don't have any objectives? That's tragic, you know, but you are still confused. The fact that you are empty means that you can fill that emptiness with as much as you want. You happy person, where's a better future than that?"

What defines "you"? The concept of identity, never mind the search for it, is a complicated question that fiction tries to answer. Beware though, fiction likes to throw us curve balls.

Is it your memories? Those can be removed or altered. (Oh, are there ever so many ways.) How about your personality? Well, that changes over time naturally like it or not, but then again you can play someone else and find you like being them better. It may even be outright altered whether you like it or not. Is it your body... or your humanity? Less luck there, if it isn't a body swap it's a gender swap or something much worse. Does the soul have anything to do with this? Are you still "you" if you reincarnate?

Then again, most of the previous changes are negative, but what about positive alterations? "Flowers for Algernon" Syndrome and What Measure Is a Non-Super? make you wonder just how valuable you are when you gain... or lose... faculties. The Mind Is a Plaything of the Body, after all.

Don't let our meandering college philosophy depress you. After all, every non-nerve cell in your body is replaced in seven years (some die and get replaced, some go through mitosis and divide into two... wait, would that make those the same cell or two new ones? Does the original count as dead after that? Argh!), and change — the evolution of a personality — is natural. So you might as well wonder if you are the same "you" from five minutes, days, years, or decades ago. ...wait, why are you crying?

Not to be confused with an Assimilation Plot, in which one's identity is subsumed into a Hive Mind. Neither is it the same as Empty Shell, in which any ability to function as an individual is lacking. Compare Split-Personality Merge, where two personalities become one, Mental Fusion, where separate minds briefly become one, Lost in Character, where an actor becomes lost in a role, and Secret-Identity Identity in which it's possible for a character to completely lose their base identity in favor of their outward persona.

See also Quest for Identity where an identity loss is the starting premise of the story. Can lead to or be part of an Identity Breakdown. Grand Theft Me can happen if said identity was stolen. Living in a society where you can't have a real identity is Individuality Is Illegal. If this is a character's backstory, it might be a Pre-Insanity Reveal.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Ayakashi Triangle: Matsuri often squares his Gender Bender Angst by saying he is "not really [himself]" so long as his body remains female. Usually, he's very casual and flippant about the issue, only stressing that he needs to change back before dating Suzu. Then he's split into a boy a girl, both are quickly convinced only the girl is "the real Matsuri", and the latter takes the idea very poorly.
  • This is one of the driving forces of Blue Drop: Tenshi no Bokura. The protagonist's male best friend had his brain downloaded by aliens and copied into the body of a female alien, and his real body was cremated. Over the course of the series the copy- and thus the human and masculine identity- slowly fade away, leaving behind the most definitely not human original inhabitant of the body. Worst of all, the human identity doesn't fade away entirely, and by the end, the creature that is left is too human to retain its alien identity, and too alien to retain its human identity.
  • From Caterpillar Girl and Bad Texter Boy, the titular girl Suzume Kikuo voices her fears about this. After she was turned into a giant caterpillar she can't live normally or do everyday tasks. She also expresses that she can't taste things anymore and is afraid that, if she stays as she is, she'll lose what makes her "her". As the story progresses, protagonist Akane notices her starting to act out in ways unusual to how he knew her before, more and more frequently.
  • Light's Memory Gambit in Death Note could be seen as an example of this- when he relinquishes ownership of the Note, he becomes himself, minus all Kira-related Character Development, but plus the character development of having encountered someone just as smart as himself (L may be smarter, but he handicaps himself with rules so it's hard to tell) and having something interesting going on in his life. Being totally selfish, he wouldn't have become Kira, gambling with his life and self, if he hadn't been bored to the depths of his soul, so there is a distinct difference even from the bright-eyed Light in the early chapters, let alone Kira at his height. Is this still 'him'? Maybe, maybe not.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist:
    • As Envy said, the tortured souls that compose his body perished a long time ago in mind and body. This may be true for all other souls that make up the Philospher's Stone. Exception being the souls inside Hohenheim, who had spoken with them and kept them from losing their minds, and Kimblee, who was eaten by Pride and his soul trapped inside him, but he found the other souls' wails of agony to be as soothing as a lullaby and kept his mind up until all the souls were released.
    • Al is also drawn into a Heroic BSoD by Barry by implying that his memories and body were just crafted by Ed.
    • Happens for real with Pride, who loses his memories and personality, and assumes the role of Selim Bradley.
  • Gunslinger Girl:
    • This is an effect of the conditioning given to the cyborgs, where they are turned into blank slates who can be programmed to perform any function needed and it ensures loyalty to The Handler. Prolonged overexposure to the conditioning medication causes the girls to develop memory problems, seen most prominently with Angelica, the first cyborg to be created and thus the first one to start showing symptoms of conditioning poisoning. As time goes on, the other girls begin experiencing this to varying degrees. Henrietta gets it worst of all when she starts experiencing flashbacks to the Dark and Troubled Past that originally got her picked up by the Social Welfare Agency. The doctors' only idea to keep her functioning is to mind-wipe her to "factory settings", so to speak, and by this time, her handler Jose is so worn down from his work and constantly having to placate Henrietta's affections for him that he can't even muster any argument. After the procedure, Henrietta's original personality is erased and she becomes little more than an emotionless robot.
    • It also happens when the girls are first turned into cyborgs, as all of them are plucked from near death and it's best to condition over their mental trauma, although Rico still remembers her life before the Agency found her and Triela knows that she was found in Amsterdam. Other than Rico, it's treated as a very bad sign if a girl starts remembering her previous life.
  • Carefully analyzed in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, where the entirety of Fate's Dark Magical Girl role stems from being considered a mere tool by her "mother" and having the identity of her genuinely loved dead sister, for which her "mother" hates her to no end for having her own personality.
  • In Monster, the orphanage Kinderheim 511 existed solely to do this to children of criminals and political undesirables in East Germany. They bit off more than they could chew with Johan, though.
  • Naruto:
    • The driving force behind Kabuto's villainy. Kabuto was orphaned and suffered a head injury that robbed him of his memories at a young age, so he doesn't even know his original name or family. He was taken in by a kind orphanage matron where he was named Kabuto. Soon after Danzo employed him as a spy, which meant adopting new cover identities on a regular basis. When an assassin came for him, he was horrified to realize it was the orphanage matron who didn't recognize him, sending him into a full-blown identity crisis. Orochimaru arrived at that point, explaining that Danzo had manipulated the matron with fake pictures; he suggested that Kabuto should find his own identity in life, ultimately becoming Orochimaru's second-in-command. Orochimaru's death left Kabuto adrift once again until he eventually decided to focus on attaining power surpassing any other ninja in an attempt to bring meaning to his nameless existence.
    • "Tobi" attempts to invoke this about himself, burying his old identity under layers of Obfuscating Stupidity and other lies. When it turns out he's neither the harmless goofball nor the stoic Uchiha Madara, he claims that he doesn't have a real self and is just a vessel for his master plan. However, this is simply how he runs away from his painful past.
    • Anyone caught in the Infinite Tsukuyomi, and eventually turned into White Zetsu, lose their original selves' personalities and defining features.
  • In Nobunaga no Chef, the title chef, Ken, has extensive knowledge of high-class cuisine and Japanese military history so he knows what foods he can and can't make, the outcomes of battles, who his boss Oda Nobunaga is and how he (Oda) will die — and that's it. He lost his memory when he "fell" into the past and the only other person who might know ("Ken! You must return to the Heisei era!") is killed. He gets the occasional flashback but these aren't terribly helpful since he doesn't remember who that guy was who taught him military history as a boy and what a buffet is.
  • In One Piece, on the island of Dressrosa the sentient toys were once humans transformed into toy creatures by a Devil Fruit power. It seems that a majority of those close to the transformed victims not only don't recognize the victim, they forget the person even existed.
  • Oz Vessalius from PandoraHearts suffered an identity crisis very early in life after his father completely rejected him. Being the type of person that he is, he was able to eventually bounce back from that blow, although not entirely. As of Retrace LXXIV, however, he seems to have lost his sense of purpose as well as any semblance of self-worth, all of which is the result of everything that Jack did to him in the previous chapters.
  • This is the Central Theme of the Psychological Horror flick Perfect Blue. Our heroine is a young performer named Mima, who's making a career change from being a squeaky-clean Idol Singer to a serious actress. The transition is rough, not least because some of her fans take this as a personal betrayal, as if the cheerful, cutesy idol singer is a completely different (better) person from the more mature and withdrawn TV star. Throughout the movie, Mima struggles with her own self-image, the inherent uncertainty and fluidity of life as an actor, people trying to force different identies upon her without her consent, and people trying to outright steal her old identity, as she no longer wants it. The Sanity Slippage that ensues leads to Mima (and the audience) being unable to trust her own eyes, and even she's left wondering who she truly is. It's all summed up by the Arc Words, which also happen to be her first lines in her first acting job.
    Excuse me. Who are you?
  • In The Secret Agreement, while Kyuusai treats Yuuichi's blood finally awakening as the finding of an identity with the clan (which steals other people's life force in order to live), Yuuichi feels like his identity and all the meaning in his life has just been wrenched away. Particularly since it means his love for Iori is a delusion meant to enable Yuuichi to kill him, Yuuichi doesn't know how to navigate between what he thinks are real feelings and what his uncle says he must do.
  • Serial Experiments Lain:
    • This is one of the central points in the series. Lain is a painfully reclusive girl who barely speaks to anyone, but what about the Lain who spends every night drinking and hooking up at the clubs? Later, when some of The Men in Black are asking her some questions, she asks "Who are you?" They turn the question around and ask her when her father was born. She can't answer, because her family is fake and she was never human in the first place.
    • This is also her source of angst in the final episode when she wonders who she is after erasing herself from everyone's memories, discarding her physical body, and altering history so she was never there.
  • Sasami of Tenchi Muyo! had this. After a major fall when Ryoko invaded Jurai, she was rescued by Tsunami and bonded with her. For over 700 years, she wanted to tell someone the truth, that she was nothing more than a vessel and that the real Sasami was dead, but always stopped because she was afraid that if she did, they'd abandon her. Thanks to a mistake on her part, the others learn the truth, but quickly reassure her that they'd still love her. However, when Sasami passes out from all of the excitement does Tsunami reveal the truth - she never died that day. The trauma from the fall and rescue caused her to think that. She reassures everyone that when Sasami's older and can handle the truth, she'll learn it.

    Comic Books 
  • In Astro City, Beautie thinks her ignorance of where she came from makes her hollow.
  • This is part of the hook of the Vertigo Comics version of Human Target: Christopher Chance has no real sense of his own identity after spending his life impersonating other people. Even worse is his onetime pupil Tom McFadden, who managed to lose all memory of his original identity after some time impersonating Chance (and in turn impersonating a few others along the way) — there's a scene where he struggles fruitlessly to think of something about himself besides what he can see in the mirror.
  • Loki: Agent of Asgard: The title character is repeatedly warned "ego-death is coming for you", implied to be this. Issue 13 ends with them apparently committing a Heroic Sacrifice by changing their very identity, complete with farewells to their human friend before doing it. When Loki finally reappears eight months later, they don't seem to have any memory of their friend. They do remember that she is their friend though, and they explicitly choose this and their brotherly love as the core of their new identity.
  • In Alan Moore's Miracleman Michael Moran often feels pathetic in comparison to his alternate form/second personality, the titular Miracleman. Over time he gets less and less time to spend as himself, creating the sense that Miracleman is slowly and inadvertently taking over their body. In the end, Michael realizes that this is exactly what's happening and then proceeds to write up what is essentially a suicide note. He then walks to a nearby secluded hilltop and tearfully says his transformation word one last time; when the transformation happens, Michael is gone forever and Miracleman never returns to his mortal form again.
  • Superman #296-299 had a storyline where Superman finds himself powerless as Clark Kent and spent most of it sticking to one identity while trying not to fall back on the other. In the end, he had come to a realization:
    Superman: I tried to decide whether Clark or Superman is more important... and realized that to do away with one would be to kill half of myself — whoever I really am! So even before I got rid of my power problem, I'd decided... meek, mild-mannered Clark Kent will still walk the streets of the city, while up in the sky... the world will still watch and thrill to the sight of — A JOB FOR SUPERMAN!
  • After absorbing the powers and memories of Ms. Marvel and realizing that they aren't fading away as her transfers normally do, Rogue turns to the X-Men for help as she finds herself unable to clearly sort out which thoughts are actually hers.
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: When Steve Trevor learns he's the transplanted Steve from another dimension whose memories were all crafted by the Amazons (without his or Diana's knowlege) to replace the presumed dead Earth-One Steve he's quite unsettled. He ends up merging with what is left of the Earth-One Steve and feels like a more complete person for it, being quite glad to have real memories now.

    Fan Works 
  • Blank Slate, opens with James and Lily Potter 'escaping' their deaths, but at the cost of an initially-unknown party erasing their memories and sending them to a random field some distance away before anyone else could find them. Despite their loss of memory, to the extent that they have completely forgotten about magic, they retain enough 'memory' to realise that they aren't strangers to each other, forming a new life together as Jacob and Eva Andrews until their daughter Amelia receives her Hogwarts letter and they are recognised by Professor McGonagall, the two starting to remember parts of their past lives even before they are given a potion to restore their memories.
  • Encrypt within the Dark, to Save the Clockwork of a Heart: What essentially happens with Ai during the start of the story. He knows from his few fragmented memories that he had a close connection to Yusaku before and still acts like his goofy self, but feels he isn't complete and unsure why he would partner up with someone like Yusaku.
  • Escape from the Moon: Doa has no idea who she is or how she got to the moon. Until chapter 6, where it's all explained to her... and she subsequently overcomes this the next time she's killed and reawakens.
  • Glory suffers this in Fallout: Equestria - Project Horizons when the Killing Joke (not the comic book, but a virulent, mutated, radioactive strain of Poison Joke) transforms her into a clone of Rainbow Dash. She finds herself losing most of her intelligence as Dash's harebrained adrenaline junkie personality overwrites her own calm, rational, intellectual one. And to make things worse, Rainbow Dash was her civilization's equivalent of Emmanuel Goldstein.
  • In Forever He-Man Prince Adam essentially dies once the Power Sword is destroyed, and a lot of He-Man's idle time is spent grappling with what that means.
  • It has been implied by Word of God that this is what happens to those who become Warmongers, of original Freedom Dies With Me and Splatoon: Crimson Gaze fame. The condition is treated as an extreme Fugue state; the old personality "dies" and what replaces it is a violent and embittered parody of who they were. This reaches its logical endpoint with "Ferals", where even that facade is dropped and the victim reverts to primal instincts, and the mysterious "Blanks".
  • Intercom features a much more "child-friendly" version of this. Mostly because the one dealing with it IS a child. Riley Andersen has to come to terms with the fact that her emotions have personalities, wills, etc, and is seeking an understanding of how much they are or aren't responsible for how she thinks.
  • In Justice, Lex comes to this conclusion about the Joker as the clown's encounter with Sanji costs him his laughter and smile, the two major things that identify him. Without them, the Joker becomes far more deadly and unpredictable as he desperately tries to find something to make him laugh again, making criminals far more fearful of him than they were before.
  • While Knights of the Old Republic fanfics adore this trope, the "Brotherhood of Shadow" fan-made expansion pack cranks it up with virtually every major character abandoning, obliterating, and adopting new identities. A Twi'lek named Channa Mae was found by Jedi Master Solomon, who nicknamed her "Matilda." When the Mandalorian Wars came, Channa Mae abandoned Solomon and the Jedi, as well as the nickname, to fight for Revan's cause. After the war, she abandoned even the Channa Mae identity to become "Shadow," Revan's assassin/aide/secret apprentice. When Revan "died," Shadow found her Force connection severed and became Sera Degana, a crewman on a smuggling vessel. But, then Revan and Solomon come back into her life... Another example is Kobayashi, who was once a Jedi apprentice, and lost his own Force connection after his master was killed, then took on a new identity as a scout and smuggler. Solomon also abandons his identity after being critically wounded and thought dead on Taris. His goal is to kill Revan - and Shadow — to avenge his former Padawan and his niece (who Channa had to kill in self-defense). The Brotherhood of Shadow itself cements it all — they were an elite Sith order who were critical in repelling the Rakatan invasion of their world, seeing themselves as a single unit, not as individuals. When the first Sith Lords betrayed them, the entire Brotherhood was locked in a mind-trap. Over the millennia, they truly did become a single mind - one looking for a host.
  • Never Say Never enforces this on two female characters as punishments:
    • During the events of the first chapter Mukuro Ikusaba, masquerading as her twin sister Junko Enoshima at the time, is forced by the real Junko (who is also the Mastermind) to continue playing the game as Junko, where if she gets her actual identity revealed she'll be executed.
    • Celestia Ludenberg is hit with this way harder at the end of chapter 3, as for her punishment everything that made her Celestia is destroyed before her eyes (Aoi Asahina, who was hit really hard by her betrayal, personally drags it out). She's forced to resume her real identity of Taeko Yasuhiro.
  • In Mega Man: Defender of the Human Race, sometimes Mega Man is so busy being Mega Man that he forgets he can be Rock.
  • Poor Rei in Neon Metathesis Evangelion. After she has sacrificed herself and EVA-00 against Bardiel, she is resurrected with her soul reunited, but not reintegrated, so to speak. Thus she questions who she is: Rei I? Rei I in the EVA? Rei II? A fully new Rei III? Though there is one thing certain for her: "I am not her." (Lilith)
  • In People Turning Into Smith Clones, Ava’s boyfriend Charlie slowly starts to suffer from this as he spends more time as a Smith clone, as the virus slowly compels him to infect the people he loved the most.
  • Ripples has this start to happen to Will once she's forced to accept that she's not in a Lotus-Eater Machine, but has actually been spending years Trapped in the Past. This is especially due to the fact that, aside from her own memories, there's no evidence for the existence of "Will Vandom", while there's plenty for "Van Rivers".
  • In the Invader Zim fic A Wee Bit of Gaz, Gaz accidentally kills a leprechaun while trying to force him to give her a pot of gold. As punishment for this, she's transformed into a leprechaun herself and sentenced to a year of servitude in the leprechauns' home dimension. Unfortunately, due to Narnia Time, a year on Earth is equal to 20 for the leprechaun dimension, meaning that while she's made human again upon her return, Gaz is now an adult in a world expecting her to still be a child; with no way to prove her identity, she's reduced to living and working under an assumed name in the Skool as a janitor.
  • EQUESTRIA GIRLS fanfic You Call That a Costume? combines this with Becoming the Costume when a spell transforms the Rainbooms into the character they dressed as down to the last detail.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Spirited Away, Yubaba binds people to her service by stealing their names and memories. Even Chihiro, who is there for less than a day, already begins to forget her real name.
  • In Steven Universe: The Movie, Spinel uses a Rejuvenator against the Crystal Gems, wiping their memories and reverting them to their "default" personalities. Pearl becomes cheerfully subservient (and imprints on Greg as her master), Ruby and Sapphire are back to being a standoffish bodyguard and a prescient fatalist respectively, and Amethyst regresses to a child-like state imitating everything she sees and hears. And after Steven turns Spinel's Rejuvenator against herself, he discovers that the vindictive Monster Clown he just fought started out as a fun-loving goofball. Fortunately, Steven discovers that the Gems' personalities haven't been wiped, only suppressed, and making them relive their most important memories brings their old selves flooding back. But he doesn't know what made Spinel go bad, and her old self is the only one who knows how to turn her Doomsday Device off...
  • In the Novelization of Turning Red, after gaining her giant red panda form, Mei initially feels like she has lost her identity as Ming's daughter.
    After explaining the red panda curse to me, Mom had assured me that she still loved me. As I lay there, I heard loud and clear that it wasn’t me she loved. It was a girl named Mei-Mei.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The 1996 movie adaptation of Casper expanded Casper's backstory, which involved him slowly losing his memories of his former life when he became a ghost. He does have recollections when he finds his old toy room, but it might just be a matter of time until he forgets who he is again. The idea of ghosts losing the identities of their living selves also becomes a tearjerker when Kat's father turns into a ghost and cannot remember who his own daughter was before he was resurrected in the Lazarus machine.
  • Dark City goes hog-wild with this trope. Every resident in the city (except Dr. Schreber, and even he's not truly spared) is not who they think they are. Every night, The Strangers will go in and mix up a new batch of memories for every person in The City. There is no telling how many years this is going on, and it's highly unlikely that there's any copies of each person's original memories, and thus personality.
  • In the sci-fi film Eleven, by Makodap, the main character Pete Baxter attempts to leave a future hotel without paying his bill. Before he can leave, a woman called Miss Stevens gives him a gift of scotch, upon drinking it and phoning for a call girl, Pete is transformed into the woman he ordered, and slowly starts to lose his mind, becoming her mentally.
  • This is a major theme of Ne te retourne pas ("Don't Look Back"), as growing inconsistencies between Jeanne's memories and reality cause her to start question who she really is and how many of her memories are actually real.
  • This is the crux for much of the drama in Regarding Henry, starring Harrison Ford. In it, the title character survives a gunshot wound to the head, only for the resulting pinched artery to affect his memory. Cue the rest of the movie depicting him coming to terms with not remembering anything about his life before the shot.
  • The movie The Wall for the Pink Floyd album The Wall, shows this symbolically. If you see a group of people wearing masks, such as on the train during "Another Brick In The Wall Part 2", or during the rally in "Run Like Hell", then this is what it means.

  • All My Sins Remembered: This is the problem facing Otto McGavin, and indeed all Prime Operators employed by the Confederacion, by the end of the book. A long career of having his real identity subsumed by false or stolen personalities has caused him to suffer a crisis of identity as his mind tried to reconcile his true memories with the various implanted ones used to shield him from detection on missions. He's ultimately left howling in madness as his handlers lament his fate due to him being one of their best agents, ultimately retiring him by permanently locking him in suspended animation.
  • In Ancillary Sword from the Imperial Radch trilogy, Lieutenant Tisarwat must rebuild her personality and sense of self after the ancillary implants connecting her to Anaander Mianaai are removed.
  • Bas-Lag Cycle: In Iron Council, monks devoted to a god of secrets must forfeit knowledge about themselves in return for new insights. One such monk who travels with the Council starts out not knowing his/her own sex, and is later forced to yield up more and more of his/her self-knowledge in order to guide the group, eventually fading into oblivion from this trope.
  • In John C. Wright's Count to a Trillion, the princess's revelations leave Menelaus wondering who he is.
  • In The Demolished Man, The reader only at the end discovers that "Demolition", the punishment for murder, is the erasing of all your memories. This is because they feel that anyone who flouts the system has the drive society needs, but obviously they don't want murderers running around. So your memories are erased and you can become a productive member of society.
  • In Dr. Franklin's Island, The Mind Is a Plaything of the Body and being turned into animals means the mind is changed as well. That makes the situation test subjects find themselves in more bearable but also causes this trope. Semi, in the form of a manta ray with human eyes, worries about this; she finds herself going into random daydreams when she wants to focus and forgetting things like that she has Electronic Telepathy, but it's worse for Miranda, especially after Semi starts to get dosed with the cure and Miranda isn't. After a point Semi becomes convinced that Miranda's gone and only an animal remains. In the climax of the book Miranda proves that to an extent this was Obfuscating Insanity - she was losing her sense of who and what she was and couldn't think straight, so she didn't think of getting help, but she retained some of her goals and still remembered Semi.
  • 1930s pulp hero Doc Savage maintained a secret installation where he used brain surgery and memory modification to 'cure' captured villains' criminal tendencies and turn them into productive members of society — practices that would be considered torture and brainwashing nowadays.
  • In The Executioner and Her Way of Life, some people have Pure Concepts attached to their souls. A Pure Conce[t grants incredible power, but erodes the memories and personality of the wielder each time its used. Eventually, a user loses their entire personal identity and acts as nothing more than an avatar of the Pure Concept they wield.
  • Fate/strange fake:
    • Flat Escardos summons Jack the Ripper as his Servant. However, unlike the Fate/Apocrypha version, this Jack is an incarnation of the legend of the killer, and as thus unaware of the real identity of the Whitechapel murderer. The result is a hollow, bloodthirsty spirit that perfectly disguises as anyone, since, well... Jack could have been anyone... a doctor, a prostitute, perhaps an organized group; even a demon, maybe...
    • Soldier 1 was raised from infancy as a soldier, and was never treated like a child, but a weapon. By the time the story starts, he's an Empty Shell fully devoted to his mission, whatever it is. He really doesn't have a concept of empathy or any idea of how to interact with others outside of combat. His Servant Watcher intends to break him out of this mindset; their first conversation has the boy renounce the title his superiors gave him and name himself Sigma.
  • In Andre Norton's Forerunner Foray, Ziantha faces "erasure" if the Patrol catches her.
  • The Garden of Sinners:
    • A major theme in the series. Shiki wakes up after a two-year coma and is only able to feel " " - literally nothing, emptiness. She is unable to connect herself to the "her" from her memories, and no longer has the "split personality" that she had been born with to keep her company. Her finding something to continue living for is a major issue for the rest of the series.
    • Also done on a lesser scale with Tohko, who at one point created an exact duplicate of her body, down to the last detail, which made her realize that her own individuality was completely meaningless, as that body could exist as her on its own. She links it to her consciousness and sets it to wake up the instant her current body dies, so it quite literally is her, complete with memories and everything.
  • In John C. Wright's The Golden Age, Phaethon is suing for his father Helion to be declared dead, because the current Helion was resurrected from a recording an hour before the last version died. Helion repeatedly tries to reconstruct his last hour so he can figure out what he was thinking. What deeply disturbs Helion is not so much the possibility of being declared dead with his son inheriting all as the possibility that he really isn't the real Helion. In The Golden Transcendence, Daphne reveals to him the secret he was missing to reconstruct himself, and that he could not reconstruct it because he was afraid of losing his identity when his last version had willingly lost his identity and life. After the Transcendence, a gift is given to Helion: a priority routine to transmit his information, so that the last thing to be transmitted will be his fear of losing himself and another such resurrection will not trouble him.
  • Harry Potter:
    • Dementors essentially do this to their victims. Just being near them for a few minutes is enough to drain the happiness out of you, and prolonged exposure leads to depression and the loss of will to live. Receiving a Dementor's "kiss", which steals your soul and leaves you with no sense of self at all, is seen as a Fate Worse than Death.
    • Memory charms are a means of rewriting a person's memories, and thus (in extreme cases) creating new identities for them.
  • His Dark Materials: Intercision separates a person from their daemon. At best this means they become incurious and weak-willed, and at worst it means they hang around ghoulishly and then die.
  • The Hunger Games: Features heavily in Mockingjay with Peeta Mellark. The character in question is tortured, brainwashed, and turned into a weapon against the rebellion in general and Katniss in particular. Katniss realizes that she's lost the Peeta she knew and had fallen in love with even though he's physically still alive. Lucky for her he eventually gets better.
  • In InCryptid, one variety of merfolk is born looking and behaving human. But shortly after puberty, any exposure to water will bring forth their oceangoing nature. Saltwater makes it happen faster; and the land memory erodes as fast as the sea traits return, eventually leaving a typical merperson out of myth who may only barely remember anything about those they knew and loved on dry land.
  • In Jackrabbit Messiah by Geoph Essex, the title character has a bit of trouble staying in one place, to the point of losing his own sense of self when his iconic costume is taken away. Even his hallucinatory best friend will disappear when this happens, leaving him completely without any link to his own identity.
  • Journey to Chaos: Mana mutation scrambled Eric's mind, and even after recovering from it he feels like a different person. Kallen consoles him by saying that everyone's identity changes as they grow older and that his mutation did less to change him fundamentally than he thinks.
  • Happens in the sci-fi novel The Lord of the World by Russian author Alexander Belyaev. Ludwig Stirner, after realising that he cannot go on with his plans, releases Elza from the thoughts and feelings he programmed in her mind and apologizes to her. Finally, he decides the best way to deal with himself is to use his own machine against his mind to create a new identity, locking his true self deep within his subconsciousness, thus "ending Stirner's life" as he put it.
  • Mike Resnick's short story "Me and My Shadow" posits a world akin to that in The Demolished Man, where convicted criminals are "erased" and given benign personalities. The narrator is one of these—except for the part where he still has a little voice in his head that tells him to kill people. And his new personality as an accountant is meticulous enough to make sure that this time, he won't get caught...
  • Memory by Linda Nagata explicitly answers one of the above questions: if you reincarnate, you're not really the you that you once were. You have the same soulmate (of whom there's one and only one even if you can't stand each other), and you're likely to retain some old skills without any idea of how you learned them, but you can change your identity for better or worse, pulling yourself back from the Moral Event Horizon or dropping down into it.
  • The main character of The Mental State suffers a psychological trauma that instills a sociopathic mindset in him. The difference between the kind and friendly person he once was and the devious cynical manipulator he has become is so pronounced, that he calls himself by two different names. 'Zachary' refers to his former life, and 'Zack' refers to his current one.
  • William Gibson in Neuromancer provides the example of Armitage / Corto. Corto begins as part of a US operation in Russia but is betrayed by the US, mauled by air defenses, and later made to testify falsely by his superiors. Soon after, he disappears into the criminal underworld and emerges as Armitage, a man who literally sits in his hotel room staring at the floor when not working. It's a Justified Trope, since a rogue AI brainwashed Corto into becoming Armitage, and it eventually unravels spectacularly.
  • In Pact, Padraic, an exiled faerie, tricks novice practitioner Maggie Holt into giving him her name, taking with it her identity. Padraic becomes Maggie Holt, and recognizable as such to everyone that Maggie knows, while Maggie becomes the nameless girl in the checkered scarf, slowly falling apart spiritually without the name that is the center of her being.
  • Pale: The children of the Musser family are deliberately shaped by a combination of emotional abuse and magical oaths to become the spitting image of their parents, with the final test being becoming a Willing Channeler of the consolidated personality echoes of Musser relatives, by which point, even if the Musser heir fails and becomes an Empty Shell, nobody will truly notice the difference. The present Musser family head, Abraham, holds on only to a childish desire to one day direct a movie as the only sign he was ever something other than his family's pattern.
  • After spending eighteen years near-catatonic due to losing the ability to feel positive emotions, the protagonist of Greg Egan's short story "Reasons to be Cheerful" undergoes a neurological experiment that gives him the capacity to consciously choose to enjoy or not enjoy things. Cue (w)angst over the fact that all his preferences are artificial, eventually leavened by the conclusion that everyone else's preferences are artificial too, and he's just more aware of it.
  • In The Ringworld Engineers, Nessus gains leverage over Chmeee by dosing him with (hitherto unknown) Kzinti boosterspice. Because he is now younger and scar-free, he would lose his rather comfortable identity in Kzinti society unless he is provided with evidence to support his story. Chmeee also considers his scars to be part of his personal identity as a warrior, and the loss of them to be almost like losing his memories of the fights where he got them.
  • The Second Trip is about a new person, who was a criminal who had his memory erased and a new personality implanted in him. It is his "second trip" in life.
  • Several characters in A Song of Ice and Fire go through this.
    • Arya Stark ends up joining "The Faceless Men" a guild of assassins that trains all its members to become 'no-one'. On the outside she claims it, but on the inside, she struggles to let go of her original identity. Her storyline has her regularly shifting from one name/identity to a new one in order to remain safe and anonymous. Significantly, many identities require her to alter her appearance, beginning with Yoren cutting her hair short so she can pose as a boy. The most prominent ones are Arry the boy heading North for the Wall; Weasel the steward girl working for Weese; Nymeria "Nan" the girl cupbearer to Roose Bolton; Squab the escaped servant from Harrenhal; Salty, the girl sailing to Braavos to become a Faceless Man; Cat of the Canals, a street urchin; Blind Beth, a blind beggar girl; the Ugly Girl, who receives Arya's first assassination target; Mercedene "Mercy," a mummer girl who is late for her rape.
    • Sansa Stark lives under a pseudonym as 'Alayne Stone', Littlefinger's bastard daughter, and starts thinking of herself as Alayne rather than Sansa.
    • Theon Greyjoy is tortured until he forgets his previous identity, instead taking on the identity of 'Reek'. He struggles between the two identities, but eventually regains his original identity.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • In the X-Wing Series, there is a Deep Cover Agent named Gara Petothel who was trained from an early age to create a personality and a life, fully immerse herself in it, complete objectives including forming and betraying the closest of connections, and shed it without a qualm. To the point where later she can't even remember if her previous identities had friends and interests. At some point, the handler who saw her between missions died before she came back into a splinter of Imperial service. There Gara became disgusted with her commanding officer's handling of his crew and arranged for his escape craft to be spotted by New Republic forces, then assumed a new identity and waited to be contacted, getting put into a New Republic fighter squadron. But something was different this time - she was affected by the Power of Trust and genuinely defected. She tried to throw away who she'd been and just be Lara Notsil, pilot, but she couldn't, and eventually her past came crashing in on her.
      "All the furniture that made up the way I'd thought and felt about things all my life started coming loose in my head. Nowadays it slides around and breaks into pieces and I have no idea what parts of it are real and what aren't. It hurts, and a lot of the time I don't know who I am anymore."
    • Tahiri in the New Jedi Order fears that this will happen to her after some Shapers partially turn her into a Yuuzhan Vong, especially when she realizes she sometimes thinks in the Yuuzhan Vong language, and it gets even worse later when her Vong side morphs into a full-fledged Enemy Within. She ends up resolving the issue via Split-Personality Merge, essentially creating a third identity combining the best elements of both.
  • In This Is Not a Werewolf Story, Raul considers getting Shapeshifter Mode Locked to be like the death of your human self, and by extension considers Vincent, who trapped him for months, to be a sort of murderer. Near the end of the novel, he also begins to fear that his mother has stayed in wolf form for so long that "White Wolf” may be all that’s left of her.
  • In Those That Wake's sequel, Laura feels empty after losing her memories of the first book and Mal, and has no idea why because she can't remember—but she feels very strongly that her "normal" life is like a dream.
  • In The Wereling Trilogy, most people who are turned into werewolves become violent and no longer identify with other humans.
  • In Wizard of the Pigeons, Wizard doesn't remember anything about who he was before he became a wizard. He's not the only one; becoming attuned to magic goes hand-in-hand with letting go of your previous life, memories, and basic perception of reality.
  • One of the major characters in World of Ptavvs is a telepath who seeks to understand aliens by absorbing their memories and worldviews, which become just as "real" to him as his own. Only the fact that he's still in his own body allows him to know which memories are his. Then he absorbs memories from another telepath, an alien who has much more experience with other species than he does, and spends most of the book identifying as and acting like that alien—first thinking he was somehow switched into another body, then being unable to emotionally accept that he's really an inferior human rather than an advanced alien. He snaps out of it when he discovers that he needn't feel inferior—the alien is actually incredibly stupid.
  • The Worthing Saga:
    • This trope is explored in quite some depth as it relates to memory. Every time someone enters suspended animation, their memories are completely wiped from their brain, and must be restored from a recording. Such recordings are rather fragile, and if yours breaks, you'd best restart your life from the beginning and relearn what you've forgotten, as trying to live with someone else's memories, knowing that they made choices that your instincts tell you are wrong, tends to cause insanity.
    • The setting also has telepaths, who're subject to a lesser version of this trope. The memories of other people are just as real to them as their own, and if they happen to find a memory they'd rather not have, too bad—it's a part of them forever. The knowledge that they're still themselves tends to ward off insanity, though.
    • One story in the setting, "Lifeloop", deals with this trope from an entirely different direction: the relationship between actors and their roles. The main character acts in real-time, unscripted porn films that are filmed over the course of several days, and has learned to fit herself perfectly to her roles. The actor she's matched with for one assignment breaks the fourth wall and confesses that he loves her, not the character she's playing. She goes along, improvising with him, but completely fails to realize that he isn't acting as well.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Angel, Connor got his mind wiped and given different memories, changing reality so that he was happy and well-adjusted.
  • Babylon 5:
    • Death of personality has replaced capital punishment for crimes like murder (though not treason, still). A machine wipes the personality and memory of a murderer and replaces them with a new set, letting them live out a life of willing hard community service with an assumed identity without them ever being the wiser. A telepath is present to perform scans before and after, so as to ascertain that the process has worked, but does not carry it out themself.
    • The Vorlons and the Shadows leave the galaxy when they are asked their own Armor Piercing Questions and they realize they don't have answers to them anymore.
  • In Battlestar Galactica (2003) a number of characters suffer identity crises of various types. The Eights get the worst of this: Boomer almost shoots herself because she 'doesn't know who she is anymore'. She and other 'sleeper' Cylons have serious identity crises when they discover that they've been Cylons the entire time and that all their memories from before their placement are falsehoods implanted by Cavil or other Cylons.
  • Big Sky: Legarski forgets the last three years as a result of brain damage, and this includes his criminal history apparently. When he wakes up to find himself accused of murder and sex trafficking, he's incredulous, repeating "I'm a Montana state trooper" then horrified when he realizes this must be true. The decent guy he used to be is all that's left it seems.
  • Criminal Minds dealt with this in "Tabula Rasa": a serial killer awakens from a three-year coma with total retrograde amnesia. The BAU tried to prove him guilty, but a couple of them raise the point that even if they did prove that the man named Brian Matlof was responsible for the murderers, the Brian Matlof sitting in court could be argued to be a different person. Eventually his memories return, and he escapes, returning to one of the bodies to verify his own memories. When the BAU arrive, he threatens to kill himself, believing that he'll get the death penalty anyway, but Hotch says "if you really believe that you're a different person, prove it. Do the right thing", and Matlof decides to plead guilty instead, avoiding the death penalty.
  • Dark Matter (2015): At the beginning of the show, the crew agree that they are not defined by their past actions as ruthless mercenaries, as they don't remember any of them. They decide to instead use their skills and equipment for what feels right to them as they are now without those memories, declining to even use their original names except when necessary, instead going by One through Six in the order they awakened from stasis with amnesia. Although they all retain certain personality traits. For example, Two is the de facto captain of the ship, and was captain as Portia Lin before she lost her memories as well. The one who has changed the least, as Four notes in Season Three when he recovers his original memories as Ryo Ishida, is Five (an innocent-seeming Teen Genius girl whose presence amongst these hardened criminals starts out as a mystery), the only one whose birth name is initially unknown anyway as she has no rapsheet in the computer.
  • In The Dead Zone, Johnny encounters a former spy that had assumed so many different identities during his long career that he began to doubt that he'd even ever existed as a real person. He apparently feels this so intensely that it manifests in Johnny's psychic visions as him literally disappearing one piece at a time.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Doctor and other Time Lords' ability to regenerate is an interesting twist on this: the many incarnations of the Doctor have entirely different looks and some personality traits that are unique to each, yet they somehow remain fundamentally the same character.
    • The Tenth Doctor, while insisting to Rose that he's still the Doctor, admits that everything about himself besides that is "untested". His first full episode is largely about him trying to figure this out. Come the end of his tenure, he notes that regeneration still feels like dying, with "some new man" walking off.
    • "Human Nature"/"The Family of Blood" explores the trope, where the Doctor's Memory Gambit creates a completely new and separate "John Smith" identity with his own personality and memories, who is terrified at the idea that restoring the Doctor's memories will kill him.
    • It's seen in what happens to victims of Cyber-conversion. The memories remain, but what this form (called "Human.2" by the Cybermen) lacks is emotions and a true understanding of what happened to them. It has been seen that those Cybermen who are made to realize the truth generally blow up, as they cannot live in that form.
    • "A Christmas Carol": The antagonist has a MacGuffin device with isomorphic controls which only he can operate, and he is unwilling to help save a crashing space ship. The Doctor meddles with his past, changing his memories and character in the process. When he finally succeeds in changing him to someone willing to help, the controls no longer respond because they no longer recognize him as the same person.
  • Game of Thrones has an unusual example in Bran Stark. He retained all of his original memories just fine, but he also had multiple lifetimes worth of other memories uploaded into his mind as well, many from well before he was born. As a result, he becomes extremely distant even to his closest companions and family and when confronted, does not deny that That Man Is Dead.
  • Blood Stalk of Kamen Rider Build induces this trope in people by erasing their memories and, if it serves his plans, also switching their faces. He does it either for funzies or to manipulate people, but for most of the time, it appears he manipulates people for funzies. His idea of fun is watching people be awful and dishing out some psychological torture.
  • In a different vein, the TV series Nowhere Man had as its title character a man whose existence has been erased.
  • Touched on at intervals in Quantum Leap via the "Swiss cheese memory" effect. In the pilot, Sam can barely remember his name, though it's temporary. Later he forgets that he can play piano, that he's married, and never does figure out where he learned to roundhouse kick. The same happens to Al when he becomes a leaper in "The Leap Back", but Sam is quick to fill him in.
    • A much worse loss of identity happens in "Shock Theater", in which Sam leaps into a patient undergoing electro-shock therapy. Atmospheric conditions combine with the shock to knock Sam's "ego" out of his head and for the rest of the episode he assumes the identity of several former leapees.
    • A more subtle one takes place for the leapee; we learn very little about him and don't even see his reflection, so he's even more lost than the other leapees that Sam replaces. Fridge Horror ensues: after Sam leaps out, delusions and disassociative personality disorder will feature on the patient's medical history, which they didn't before. Those were Sam, not him, but who will believe it?
    • After this episode it becomes possible for Sam's mind to merge with someone else's, with the result that during "The Leap Back his personality isn't entirely his own. It happens again with a more sinister cast in "Lee Harvey Oswald" and Sam fears he's losing himself.

  • Supertramp's "The Logical Song":
    "Please, please tell me what we've learned
    I know it sounds absurd
    Please tell me who I am."
  • The Gumi song "Copycat" about a girl who erases her personality and remakes it in the image of whatever the people around her are like in order to please them, until she eventually starts to forget who she was in the first place.
    I've become what you like
    I am what you wanted, right?!
    Sacrified all I've known
    I have taught myself to let go
  • This pops up quite a bit in David Byrne's lyrics.
    • "Somebody":
      Somebody, somebody took away our name.
      Somebody, somebody tell me who I am.
    • "Angels":
      I can barely touch my own self. How could I touch someone else?
      I am just an advertisement for a version of myself.
  • Daniel Amos: The album Vox Humana has a short story in the liner notes where the narrator reaches an unusual conclusion: loss of identity comes not from changing too much, but from the complete lack of change.
    The person who doesn't learn and does not act, I thought, disintegrates within. It is the chaos of growth, of taking new forms, that is the shield against those who spend all their time earning, spending, and amusing themselves.
  • Starset's "Carnivore": The narrator of the song finds himself dwelling on who he is and feels that he could never be enough, yearning for the titular carnivore to tear him apart at the seams and erase what makes him himself.
    Carnivore, carnivore!
    Won't you come digest me?
    Take away everything I am.
    Bring it to an end!
  • Tsumiki's phony is all about this trope to a "T". The "narrator" in the song believes they are somebody else entirely and wants to find themselves again.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • According to reincarnation doctrine, deceased souls are brought back to life in another body... but that doesn't mean they come back as a whole person or animal with any memories intact. The Dalai Lama is found each time by placing a young child in front of a wide selection of toys; he'll play with the same ones every time. So something is kept intact (then again, the Lama is said to be able to willingly decide if he reincarnates or not, so there's a belief that he has more control over this than a less enlightened person).

  • A related philosophical question is called "The Ship of Theseus": if each plank in the ship is replaced when it starts to rot, and over time one-by-one every single plank is replaced, at what point (if ever) does it stop being the same ship? note  Specifically, this trope is about the philosophical problem of personal identity. The general notion is that people stay more or less the same throughout their lives, despite changes to their bodies (if these changes do not drastically change the way the body functions). Just what makes several iterations the same person is central to the debate. The debate itself is notorious for the heavy use of science-fiction examples, such as:
    • Destructive Teleportation: if a teleporter dematerialises you and reconstructs you elsewhere, are the iterations the same person? What if it's Twinmaker style and the original is never deconstructed, but a duplicate is made?
    • Brain and/or mind-transplants: are you still the same person when you have a completely different body?
    • Related to Clone Angst, provided the clone has the same memories as the original.
  • A crucial part of The Hero's Journey, frequently manifested in the belly of the whale.
  • Truth in Television: Lobotomies, a surgical procedure where the frontal lobes are removed (or a few vital areas are sliced), essentially destroying the personality of the individual concerned.
    • Phineas Gage
    • It seems to depend. During the period where lobotomies were a popular treatment for troubled teens, a "doctor" developed the non-skull-breaking technique of sticking a thin rod through the eye socket, swerving around the eyeball, and stirring it around in the frontal lobe. There's a picture of said doctor merrily doing this to two patients at once. Results varied wildly. Some people hardly seemed affected at all, aside from being very pissed about it. Brains are complicated things that can form new connections to make up for some damage. That's how despite losing brain cells every year, humans don't peak in intelligence at twenty-five and get stupider from that point on. Brain cells can take up a lot of slack.
    • Lobotomies, in their original form, certainly have a well-deserved reputation for being dangerous and damaging the subject's personality, but modern developments (such as the cingulotomy) are apparently far less so and can be far more successful in alleviating mental disorders without disrupting an individual's personality. The book Opening Skinner's Box by Lauren Slater devoted a chapter to psychosurgery where she pointed out that cingulotomy surgery tends to be much more effective than conventional psychopharmacological drugs in treating long-lasting mental disorders, but the former is still stigmatized as highly unsafe and invasive, so surgery is rarely carried out. In the US, an individual with severe mental disabilities must demonstrate that a large variety of drugs have had no effect in alleviating their suffering before a cingulotomy will be considered.
  • There's also The Myth of Fingerprints, where fingerprints from say 8 years ago are identified as Alice, but since the entire body regenerates it's not really the same person after enough time passes. Even brain & nerve cells do replace themselves, but they do it so slowly that the effect is negligible, which is why it took so long for scientists to notice.
    • That logic was played with by Terry Pratchett in one of the Discworld books. Sgt. Colon, in an attempt to look somewhat more intelligent, makes the 7 years comment. Nobby then raises the tattoo question. Fred's response is that those cells came from other people's tattoos, which might qualify as fridge squicknote . Colon, at least, is excused for ignorance.
  • Query: if the nerves connecting the two lobes of the brain are cut, what happens to the self, or the sense of self? What happens to "I"?
    • Very little, as it turns out. Corpus callosotomies are rarely but regularly performed to alleviate severe epilepsy. Speech and memory are affected some, and a few glitches may become evident when information would normally cross those nerves, but the sense of self is usually entirely intact. This is because other pathways between the hemispheres remain intact. Information transfer is reduced, not eliminated.

  • In the Big Finish Doctor Who episode "The Natural History of Fear", the setting is a George Orwell style dystopia. The state Editor, who's in charge of "revision", has the Doctor's voice, but he acts like a completely different person. When it's revealed that "revision" is pretty much an irreversible lobotomy followed by a brand new personality implant, we get some idea of what may have happened to him and his companions... to add to the Mind Screw, it's the only Big Finish episode that has only a cast list instead of a proper credits list.

  • Dawn of a New Age: Oldport Blues:
    • Benjy was already questioning aspects of himself and his gender before he underwent his superpower transformation. Being turned into a bug monster just heightened his introspection.
    • Jae has spent so long molding herself into whatever her parents don't like that she's not entirely sure who she is anymore.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • Getting bitten by an Ophidian (snake-like creatures commonly found as slaves of the evil serpentine Yuan-ti) results in a not-so-pretty transformation process. After two weeks, the victim fully transforms into another Ophidian, with no memory of its previous existence.
    • Similarly, a Mind Flayer larva devours the brain of a host humanoid, and absorbs the host body as part of its own, in a process called ceremorphosis. The newborn creature has no memory of its host's existence. However, mind flayers scare other mind flayers with stories of the Adversary, a mind flayer who retained its host's personality and, in revenge, dedicated itself to destroying mind flayer society from the inside.
    • Also true of some varieties of slaad (embodiments of Chaotic Neutral), of bodaks (featureless beings similar to but distinct from doppelgangers), and of many varieties of undead. This seems to be associated with magical creatures that are either evil or so chaotic as to be completely beyond conventional morality.
    • When dealing with undead, it tends to vary depending on the type. A mindless undead like a zombie is just an empty body, and with the proper magic, a person could be resurrected with a new body that exists alongside the zombie, since the soul left the body upon death. A vampire on the other hand must be slain to bring back the person — the vampire has the memories and personality of the original, but is twisted into evil and the person brought back will be the original again.
  • In Eclipse Phase, this is one of many, many, many reasons you should be careful around the Exsurgent virus ("careful" here meaning either "avoid at all costs" or "kill as thoroughly as possible"). X-Risks goes into detail on how it feels to be an infected sleeper agent, and it could basically be compared to having your personality gradually overwritten with that of some alien monster. Your human side is used mostly as a disguise for the entity within, kept around only as long as it's useful and driven to actions that don't make sense and sensations that you shouldn't be getting (phantom-limb pains in limbs humans don't have, for example).
    Please kill me now...Use that plasma cutter. Melt my stack. Destroy my body. Burn it all. The void is getting out. I can feel it.
  • The New World of Darkness uses this often as an example of what happens when your Karma Meter bottoms out.
    • Vampire: The Requiem — hit Humanity 0 and your Beast takes over, reducing you to a predatory draugr that cares only about feeding.
    • Werewolf: The Forsaken — hit Harmony 0 and the human half of your spirit decays entirely as some other type of spirit fills the gap, turning you into a zi'ir.
    • Changeling: The Lost — hit Clarity 0 and you disappear into anything from constant hallucination to utter catatonia and if you do it when you're Wyrd 10, you become one of the Gentry.
      • Also, this game takes the trope much more literally, as the page image implies; the vast majority of changelings can't return to their former existences because they have literally lost their identities, as the Gentry create Fetches, magic-spawned Artificial Humans, to adopt the lives of those they take as slaves. As a result, the changelings find their old identity has been taken from them, so they are forced to make new lives for themselves. Well, that, or try and kill the Fetch to steal their identity back...
    • Geist: The Sin-Eaters — hit Synergy 0 and your soul departs entirely, leaving your geist to use your body as a flesh puppet to fulfill its strange desires. There's also the Ocean of Fragments, where you can take a dip into the waters and lose pieces of your identities. Starting with the smallest motes, you'll then lose formatives, truths, and finally natals. And after that, there's one last thing you can lose, the statement "I am." No one knows what happens to those who lost that very last thing, but they never return. On the other hand, you can also grab other identifiers, so you can reconfigure your self as you see fit. Of course, it won't be easy nor practical, but it's definitely an option.
    • Mummy: The Curse plays around with it; whereas the default for most supernaturals is Morality 7, most Arisen rise from their slumbers with Memory 3, meaning they're little more than divine murder machines in service to the Judges. It's only as they remain awake that they start remembering who they were over the years... only to have to face the possibility of forgetting it all again with the inevitable return to the tomb.
    • Deviant: The Renegades doesn't make it part of the Karma Meter... because it's a default for the characters. Deviants have been so broken by being remade that they can only really define themselves by external principles or relationships; the "they" has been carved out.
    • In the fanmade Genius: The Transgression, Geniuses are essentially humans who have tapped some inhuman well of Inspiration that allows them to perform mad science. The problem is that if they start losing their connection to humanity, represented by their Obligation rating, that Inspiration starts to eat away the human side and replace it, leaving something with superficial traits of the real person but no real drives left beyond the need to create Wonders - and the people around them only register to it as raw materials.
  • In Nobilis, the lifepath example in Antithesis 1i features a girl who nobody listened to, who found that people would listen if she repeated the sounds made by the local environment. So she kept doing so, until one day, she realised she no longer knew who she was or what she would say - she had become nothing but the voice of Morrowen Hollow. And then the Voice, the pattern of sound, took on a life of its own.
  • Unknown Armies features a Sanity Meter with five separate variables. Self represents approaching this trope from one of two ways - either losing yourself in utter cynicism until you'd betray your old ideas ("Getting hardened,") or else taking so many blows to your sense of self you are just a wreck ("failed checks.") In either case, maxing out either end of this meter means there's virtually no "you" left in there.
  • The Stormcast Eternals of Warhammer: Age of Sigmar are elite warriors forged by Sigmar from the souls of particularly noble and powerful heroes of any race, that they may continue to battle the forces of Chaos long after death. However, forging the Stormcasts pissed off Nagash, who thought Sigmar was muscling in on his domain over the afterlife, so he put a curse on the Stormcasts to try and get their souls back to him: whenever a Stormcast Eternal is killed, a portion of their soul goes to Nagash, so as time goes on the Stormcasts will become more and more like automatons and lose whatever personality or identity they had when they were first created.
  • Warhammer Fantasy: Chaos Champions have so thoroughly rejected their humanity through a lifetime of atrocities and been so physically and mentally warped by Chaos that they can remember only fragments of their old identities. Most take new names and cast off their old lives completely.

  • Reconstructed in Jasper in Deadland, when Gretchen points out that being unable to remember anything about her life is actually kind of liberating, as she can't remember anything bad about it. She even considers giving up her memories again, when she regains her memories only to remember her life wasn't that great.
  • This is the most important theme of Robert Bolt's play A Man for All Seasons. In his introduction to the play, Bolt explains how taking an oath is committing one's whole self to the statement. A man can lose his family, his job, and his wealth, but if he is willing to draw a line in the sand and say "I will not do this thing, under any circumstances", then he probably has a clear sense of who he is.
    Thomas More: When a man takes an oath, he is holding his own self in his hands. Like water. [Cups hands] And if he opens his fingers then— he needn't hope to find himself again.

    • The plan of the Big Bad Makuta Teridax involved trapping the entire Matoran population of Metru Nui into metal spheres, which, over time, deteriorated their physical bodies and wiped their memories clean. The Turaga elders had to reteach everything to them, however one Matoran, Ahkmou, accidentally ended up with Teridax himself, who proceeded to forge a new, evil identity for him.
    • Another example is what happened to the Toa Mata. Due to their malfunctioning canisters, they drifted for such a long time in the ocean that their muscles rotted away (even though the canisters were sealed) and their body parts got jumbled together. When they awoke and put themselves back together, it took some time for their lost identities to reemerge, however only their leader Tahu got his full memories back eventually.

    Video Games 
  • Absented Age: Squarebound: Without her Heart Fragments, Karen is in danger of losing her identity. What this means is that if the Gangers take her Heart Fragments, they can become "Karen" while the real one is doomed to wander the Driftworlds as a ghost. When a Ganger steals her first and most important fragment, it's considered closer to being Karen than Karen herself, making it so that the rest of the Heart Fragments gravitate towards the Ganger while rejecting the ghost Karen.
  • Big Daddies in BioShock normally are mind-wiped as they're mutated and surgically grafted into their diving suits, but some unfortunately retained their minds.
  • This is essentially what the Undead of Dark Souls are fated to go through if they die too much or go too long without a quest to keep them motivated. They'll gradually lose their memories and wither into zombie-like Hollows who prey upon those still healthy. This can be avoided and even reversed (assuming one hasn't gone fully Hollow), however, if they can get their hands on a steady supply of Humanities to replenish the ones that leak out of them as they die and fall into despair. This may even be why Hollows attempt to attack humans and healthy Undead in the first place, driven by instinct to try and plunder Humanities as a futile attempt to heal their broken state.
  • Exos from Destiny grapple from this. They were created by Brain Uploading human minds into robot bodies, but many of them don’t retain their memories of being human; Cayde-6 only knows anything about his life as a human through the journals of past iterations and occasional flashbacks, while the Stranger gives no indication of knowing she used to be Elsie Bray. Further, Exos that suffer extreme damage or crippling mental issues often have to reformat themselves, which basically involves wiping their memories and starting over from scratch. The number in their names (e.g., Shiro-4) represents how many times they’ve reformatted, with most only being able to do it about 20 times before it starts to damage them. This raises some pretty horrifying implications about Banshee-44, and explains why he’s so mentally scarred.
  • Digital Devil Saga has this as a potential side effect of the Demon Virus. The hardiest and strongest once-human enemies are almost all consumed by their demonic identities. More interestingly, this happens to Varin Omega once the virus hits; he abandons the name along with his original personality, instead declaring himself "Colonel Beck". This is because his memories of his past life have fully returned, instead of the bits and pieces anyone else in the Junkyard has.
  • In EarthBound (1994), when you initially get control of Poo, he has an encounter where a spiritual being strips away his body and identity, and even though it's framed as a battle, you can't keep going unless you don't resist.
  • Final Fantasy:
    • This was a major plot revelation in Final Fantasy VII when we discover that Cloud Strife, due to psychological trauma and denial, had altered his own memories and adopted the persona of his dead friend Zack Fair, losing his own identity in the process.
    • Final Fantasy XIII: Explicitly the fate that awaits any l'Cie who fails to complete the Focus given to them by the Fal'Cie. They slowly degenerate into mindless Cie'th, monstrous and aggressive creatures with tainted crystals jutting out of their bodies. Given the Fal'Cie tend to give VERY vague instructions when it comes to what they want done, this fate is far more common than success (and even what you get if you succeed is not that great).
  • The main theme of Gemini Rue with the government (and Yakuza) operating a special center where the criminals (or just enemies of the Boryokudan) are mind-wiped and re-trained for a time before a final wipe and the creation of a new identity and plastic surgery. One of the protagonists, Delta-Six (AKA Charlie) is one such mind-wiped individual at Center 7, whose eventual fate is to be turned into the second protagonist Azriel Odin, a Boryokudan assassin; but his conscience takes over, and he becomes a cop instead. At the end of the game, Azriel is mind-wiped as well and left a blank slate; however, Echo-Five believes he is now free to be himself.
  • Kingdom Hearts:
    • A main theme in Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, where Kairi's nobody, Naminé, was used by Organization XIII to rearrange and implant new memories into Sora's heart to make him a controllable pawn. Also happens to Sora's nobody, Roxas, whose memories are wiped by Ansem the Wise and placed in a simulated world with a completely new identity.
    • Xion counts too. Her memories are just a copy of Sora's.
    • As well as Xehanort (or Terra's body with Xehanort's Heart), whose memory was erased after being beaten by Terra's possessed armor and transported into Radiant Garden in Birth By Sleep.
    • ...and the villains, who appear not to remember Sora and his gang despite him kicking their asses in the earlier games.
  • The Big Bad of Kirby: Triple Deluxe, Queen Sectonia, is a victim of this; because of Dark Meta Knight's influence, she went on a long Grand Theft Me spree that, according to the Pause Screen Description of her Soul form, caused her to forget her true form and, as implied by Kirby's Dream Buffet, her true name (Joronia).
  • Kohan: Immortal Sovereigns:
    • The Ceyah faction, who have abandoned Kohan society in search of greater power and adopted new identities; some go so far as to change their appearance by altering their form or donning a mask.
    • The sequel adds new wrinkles to this by adding the Fallen faction - Kohan who have gone so far over the line that even the Ceyah want nothing to do with them; Ceyah who join the Fallen often abandon their Ceyah identities and mutate even farther. The Fallen's leader Abbadon is an extreme example of this; not only has he mutated into a city-smashing monster, but he gains the power to force the Fallen transformation in others, Ceyah or otherwise.
  • Legacy of Kain: Raziel goes through a fair amount of this. Wraith Raziel (who doesn't remember his mortal life at all, just his vampiric and wraithly existences) meets Sarafan Raziel and learns that his mortal self is a Sadistic, self-righteous Knight Templar douchebag. Vampire!Raziel was still a Knight Templar but working for Kain instead of the Sarafan. Wraith!Raziel is still a Knight Templar at points, but he's the poster boy for Unwitting Pawn and Character Development has left him with higher moral standards than his human or even vampiric self. He even calls his former human self out for his sadism, tells him "I renounce you" and then kills him(self?). Ouch.
    Human Raziel: You're a righteous fiend, aren't you?
    Wraith Raziel: Apparently I am...
  • Mass Effect:
    • This is one of the early signs of Reaper indoctrination. The ability of victims to think clearly and maintain a sense of self degrades and they eventually become little more than slaves of the Reapers, believing them to be gods and the only good thing in the universe. And then come the Dragon's Teeth.
    • Mass Effect: Andromeda: Any kett who's been Exalted suffers this to some degree, depending on the kett. Some remember every detail of their past life with total clarity but have no more emotional connection to it and some only vague flashes of memory.
  • Metal Gear:
  • In the Neverwinter Nights fan module Excrucio Eternum, the elf girl Songbird has literally no sense of self because she has been in a cage her entire life, and has been brainwashed to refer to herself as "it".
  • Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door: Mario gets his identity and body stolen in the middle of a boss fight by a Duplighost called "Doopliss". It seems that this even rendered him unable to pronouncing the word "Mario" since Vivian can't understand his answer when she asks him for his name.
  • Persona 2 turned this into even more horror with the Joker's curse. Sure, kid! Call in and get any wish you want! Any wish! What they don't tell you is that if you're too weak or overuse the power, Joker drains you of your dreams, hopes, and wishes, turning you into a Shadow Self that gradually fades into oblivion as you lose your identity to Joker's crystal skull. Funny thing, you see: the power to change reality is being fueled by your identity as an expendable resource. By rejecting reality and coasting by with Joker's power, you're weakening your connection to reality and getting closer to fading into a Shadow Self.
  • Planescape: Torment's entire story revolves around this trope, The Nameless One lost his identity every time he died in a specific manner. Trying to recover just who it is you 'are' through the multitudes of former yous who have existed across time is a cornerstone of the entire game.
  • In Resident Evil 2, Birkin suffers from this after his G-Virus induced transmutation.
  • In The Secret World, a jinn known only as the Unbound did this to itself, literally eating its name so that such could not be used to command it. Regardless, King Solomon managed to successfully trick it in order to imprison it.
  • Present in Shin Megami Tensei IV as part of Mastema's curse upon Michael, Uriel and Raphael, fitting the three with masks blotting their identities and power they were unable to remove by themselves. Eventually, with the help of the Samurai, Gabriel springs them and removes the masks.
  • Super Robot Wars Advance: This trope is the ultimate fear of Lamia Loveless. When she asked the question "What is left from a soldier, when you take away their mission?", which got rebuked with the answer: "There's still human left!", she slowly starts noticing her identity as a normal soul (despite being Artificial Human). Further interaction and she finally learns to value her own identity but feared that she would one day turn into a mindless doll, which prompts Kyosuke to promise her that he'd destroy her the moment she ever turns that way... But then, comes the ODE and Duminuss, all who attempted to rob her identity of a new human being and try to turn her into a mindless doll, like the way she was created, and almost succeeded permanently if it wasn't for Axel's interference (and a bit of her willpower).
  • This happens in Undertale. The protagonist is not a faceless player-insert, but their own person with their own personality at the whims of you, the player. If you take the Genocide route, the protagonist is slowly consumed by the vengeful spirit of the Fallen Child. By the end of the playthrough, the pacifistic, kindhearted Frisk is fully replaced by the sociopathic, omnicidal Fallen to the point where their facial features and even their shirt change to that of the Fallen.
  • For Bastion in World of Warcraft, Loss of Identity is part of the process to ascend into a proper Kyrian. As the ones who guide mortal souls to the Shadowlands after death, the Kyrian have to be impartial in their duty. To facilitate this, Kyrian aspirants are lead through rituals to purify themselves of every aspect of their past lives, from getting new physical bodies to letting go of their past memories. They're still encouraged to be individuals, but as new, purer versions of themselves unburdened by who they had once been. Some Kyrian are opposed to the process of giving up their past lives, however, and have formed a splinter faction called the Forsworn to try and dismantle the current order of Bastion.

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney:
    • In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Justice For All, this is part of Ini/Mimi Miney's motivation to murder. She was in a horrible car accident in which the real Ini, her younger sister, was killed. She gave them Ini's photo to reconstruct her face with because she was ashamed of being the nurse whose mistakes (she partially blames on the victim) killed patients. Then in her breakdown, she despairs that she had to keep living as her sister for the rest of her life.
    • Done in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies where the phantom, an international spy and assassin who caused the HAT-1 incident and is the murderer of Clay and Metis, and a Master of Disguise who wears layer upon layer of Latex Perfection masks, claims that he can no longer remember his own name or face due to spending nearly all his time disguised as other people.
  • Shirou of Fate/stay night suffered this during the fire ten years ago, where he lost all of his memories and even sense of self. Shirou's entire personality is built on his guilt from surviving and his admiration of how happy Kiritsugu had been when he saved him. When Archer points out how empty his dream and personality are it nearly destroys Shirou.
  • In Tsukihime, Nero Chaos long ago lost his human identity in favor of a collective. The collective is also losing its identity and turning into chaos. Currently, he simply intends to live long enough to figure out exactly what that is.
  • In Umineko: When They Cry, part and parcel of Sayo's emotional crisis leading up to the Rokkenjima Massacre was the fact that they were essentially trying to be three different people at the same time and realized that they would eventually need to come clean and pick one, while at the same time hating themselves for tricking people they loved like that.

    Web Animation 
  • A number of characters suffer this throughout RWBY:
    • In Volume 3, Ozpin asks Pyrrha to take up the remaining powers of the Fall Maiden and is warned that doing so might cause her to lose her identity as it was entirely possible that the current holder, lying in stasis, may overwrite her old identity in doing so. Pyrrha already has problems with the fact that no one sees her as anything except an expert Huntress in training, so this just compounds things. This is rendered moot when Cinder kills the woman, stealing the rest of her power, and murders Pyrrha.
    • Since Volume 5, this has been Oscar's worry. As the latest host body for Ozpin's spirit, he's warned that in time, their souls will merge and that may mean that Oscar will lose who he is to Ozpin. While he resolves to do as much as he can as himself, the fear that Ozpin will take over still lingers within him.
    • Genki Girl Nora suffers from this during volume 8, after several arguments with her best friend/love interest Ren leave her realizing that, ever since the pair had met, it'd always been "Ren and Nora" and never "just Nora". She claims during this period that she only knows how to "be strong and hit stuff, and when her overcharging herself to take down a forcefield leaves her horribly injured and unable to do even that, she's left wondering what's left that she's even good for anymore.

  • In Archipelago, Anthony becomes Blitz (a name Credenza gives him when he can't remember his own) after his mind is completely shattered and his memories lost when Raven's possession attempt goes horribly wrong. His former colleagues come across him weeks later and point out how he'd changed entirely, more or less becoming another person.
  • Awful Hospital: Extensive use of someone else's identification can apparently lead to this.
  • El Goonish Shive:
    • Depending on how you look at things, Ellen is either Elliot's Opposite-Sex Clone or a magical curse given human form. She has all of Elliot's memories up to the point when she split off from him, and initially believes herself to be Elliot, then snaps and tries to become a villain (with the emphasis on "tries"), then becomes a Death Seeker, and finally develops her own identity as Elliot's "sister."
    • This trope is the reason that Justin refuses to allow himself to be permanently transformed into a girl (he knows that a girl being attracted to guys would earn him less ridicule than being a guy attracted to guys, not to mention easier in another aspect). Even if it would make his life easier, he still identifies as a man.
    • The Immortals have to do this, as their lives lead to emotional and mental instability if they don't periodically wipe their memories, which is described as being like reading those experiences out of a book.
  • In Far Out, the central robot starts to realize what he wants to be, though he has no clue who he is, or was.
  • In Jack, it's one of the major plot points. The titular anti-hero/villain is undergoing eternal punishment for his sins (which, as it later turns out, include wiping out the entire human race) - but his last wish in life, which was also part of the punishment, was not to remember anything. A major motive in the comic is Jack gradually regaining his memories - and the source of many people wondering, is he still the same person when he remembers everything?
  • In Misfile, Ash is turned into a girl and history is rewritten to reflect that Ash had always been a girl. Even though Ash has a good (apparently better) life, he believes that he can't give in because if he does, it's tantamount to suicide for boy!Ash. Worse, if the misfile is exposed and covered up, he won't have a choice anymore. Ash is constantly proving to himself that he's still the Ash he remembers instead of the Ash that the rest of the world remembers.
  • In Oceanfalls, this is potentially what happened to Nino, if the implication that the Phantom is his old self is correct. Later becomes a Discussed Trope between him and Kaji, another amnesiac, who explains to Nino that he's found that no matter what is forgotten, a fundamental core part of a person still remains the same, like their most fundamental values and beliefs. Kaji advises that Nino should locate the core of who he is, so that, whether he never remembers or he finds his memories undesirable, he won't lose himself in the process.
  • Sinfest:
  • In TwoKinds, this happens to Trace twice: first when his mind is destroyed, and again when he loses his memories. It's theorized that his nice side is real because that's how he was before lost his mind for the first time.
  • In a recent storyline of The Wotch (which generally tends to gloss over this trope), Ivan wrestles with this after he is transformed as Disproportionate Retribution for snooping and trespassing by Miranda West, and eventually comes out for the better by reasserting his goals.

    Web Original 
  • In Arcana Magi, this happens to Alysia. To the point that she believes her new identity IS her real identity, even though she still has some of her real original memories intact.
  • One of the main themes of Six Chances where a Psychic Link that connects the main characters' memories cause them to question who they really are.
  • The brutish but human Agent Maine in Red vs. Blue becomes the ruthless, savage killing machine known as the Meta as a result of his AI Sigma's influence on him.
  • In Worm, Taylor suffers mental deterioration from Panacea tampering with her brain that erodes her memories and her sense of self and eventually results in a complete loss of identity.

    Western Animation 
  • Adventure Time has the Ice King, who Was Once a Man, and lost his memory and most of his personality as he lost his humanity to an Artifact of Doom. It's implied he might still be in there somewhere but buried so deep not even he knows it anymore.
  • Popeye has one short where Olive Oyl invites Popeye over for a good meal; Wimpy, ever the Big Eater, disguises himself as Popeye to get the food himself. Despite the Latex Perfection of the disguise, he still manages to come off as an Oddball Doppelgänger, yet Olive is fooled, and Popeye himself suddenly laments the possibility that he is not himself.
  • The Simpsons: In Don Hertzfeldt's far-future 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.
  • Spoofed in the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Missing Identity", where SpongeBob misplaces his name tag and treats it as Serious Business.
  • Steven Universe: Lapis Lazuli has been encased in a mirror for millennia, so it's shocking she still has a sense of self when she's released by Steven. Ironically, after being imprisoned in various places a few more times, she agrees to form a monstrous fusion called Malachite with Jasper, even though she's aware she'll likely have to allow the other to take the reins. However, this is flipped on its head when she takes control of the fusion using her water manipulation and, once again, imprisons herself and the other at the bottom of the ocean. She's shown fighting for control of the fusion in "Chille Tid", and delivers this line which hints at the beginning of her losing her sense of self, something that can happen when one's been fused for too long:
    Lapis Lazuli: I'm not Lapis anymore. We're Malachite now.
  • In Teen Titans (2003), Fixit tries to "repair" Cyborg by taking away all that made him human and replacing it with fully mechanical parts and a mechanical brain. Cyborg is justifiably freaked out, because, without his humanity, he'd be just an emotionless machine with his memories. Eventually, it is Cyborg's humanity that causes Fixit to remember what he lost.
  • Xiaolin Showdown: One of the Shen Gong Wu, The Monkey Staff, turns the user into a being with a similar appearance, strength, agility, and balance to a monkey. However, if used at a particular time, the user will believe that he or she is an actual monkey, and his or her human memories will be erased until the staff is taken away.


Video Example(s):


"Carnivore" - Starset

"Take away everything I am, bring it to an end!" is a heavy request for the song's narrator, someone who actually wants someone to erase everything about him. While the reason why varies with interpretation, it is clear that this is what the narrator desires.

How well does it match the trope?

4.67 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / LossOfIdentity

Media sources: