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Nightmare of Normality

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"I heard a rumour you think you're just ordinary..."
Allison Hargreeves, The Umbrella Academy (2019)

When pitted against an opponent who can't be Brought Down to Normal, sometimes the next best thing to do is to trick them into thinking that they're normal — and that they always have been, more often than not.

A very specific form of brainwashing — or delusion — suffered by characters who are important, special, superhuman or supernatural in some respect, this trope can be deployed in a variety of ways.

One of the more common variants features the victim being plunged into a Mental World in which they can live out their days as if nothing special had ever happened to them, hence the "nightmare." In some cases, the victim may be so taken in by the illusion that they suspect nothing and willingly assimilate; in others they may find it upsetting, even humiliating, and rebel against it.

The other, less dreamlike variant involves more straightforward mental manipulation, and features all knowledge of the victim's true nature being either suppressed or completely expunged: they can be allowed to roam free from then on, as they will have lost all knowledge of any special abilities they possessed and remain completely unaware of any great quests or vendettas that once defined their lives. In this case, the nightmare is of the purely metaphorical kind... though it does run into problems if the victims accidentally rediscover their abilities — for of course, their powers themselves haven't been destroyed, only the knowledge of them.

One way or another, regardless of whether this has been inflicted through an illusion, a delusion or through good old-fashioned Mind Control, a breakout will be attempted sooner or later — often allowing the victim to turn the tables with the powers they were forced to deny.

May overlap with Cuckoo Nest if being "normal" also means being committed to a mental hospital. However, this is not an automatic necessity of this trope: in most cases of Cuckoo Nest, the victims are encouraged to believe that their lives before the illusion were just hallucinations, while here, it's fully possible for the victims to forget literally everything of their pre-"normal" lives.

May also overlap with Lotus-Eater Machine if the experience is treated as calming and seductive, Psychological Torment Zone if it's treated as a hell, or Laser-Guided Amnesia if their memories of their life before the illusion are erased. When treated as a genuine dream that the character wants, then it's a Refreshingly Normal Life-Choice.

Compare and contrast Epiphanic Prison, Karmic Transformation, All Just a Dream, The Final Temptation, and I Just Want to Be Normal.

Warning: potential spoilers for major plot twists ahead. Tread carefully...


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    Anime and Manga 
  • The Big O: The second season begins with Roger going up against the foreign bots that come to attack Paradigm City. The fight ends up going badly and Roger... is somehow transported into a world where he's nothing but a homeless bum as opposed to the suave negotiator and wanders the street running into other characters who don't recognize him and have different roles than he knows. The implication being this was apparently everyone's former lives before whatever event caused the mass amnesia that swept over the world, though of course this show never clearly answers this. Regardless, he eventually regains his resolve and wakes up back in his world with renewed vigor to battle against the bots.
  • After the events of the first season of Code Geass, Lelouch has his mind wiped of the knowledge that he is Zero.
  • In Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, when the protagonists fight the Anti-Spiral, they get trapped in a dimension in various fantasies, some being dreams that they wish could come true (Yuko getting with either Kamina or Kittan before they died, Viral wishing to have the family that he can't have due to his beastman nature keeping him from reproducing, etc.). For Simon, he finds himself back in his teenage years in a world where Kamina is still alive and they're petty jewel thieves rather than the badass mech pilots and revolutionaries who successfully helped humanity rise from the underground depths. What's more, the dream version of Kamina is a pathetic bootlicker who cowers at the first sign of trouble. Eventually the spirit of the real Kamina arrives and helps Simon break through the illusion.
  • Tomica Kizuna Gattai Earth Granner: As Sabi's rust bombards Raiga and Kuga, their most important memories fade away and they suddenly find themselves living a normal life where they were never chosen to be the pilots of Gao Granners — and the only three Granners can't stand against Sabi, much less the now powerless kids. It takes Gao Granners calling out to them to snap their respective partners out of it.
  • Yo-Kai Watch: The 2019 series begins as if it were a reboot, with Nate not seeing Yo-kai or wearing the titular wristwatch. But in fact, Wazzat has inspirited him while he had his watch off, causing him to lose his memory of Yo-kai. When everything is cleared up by Nate's friends, his old self comes back.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! ZEXAL: Trey magically steals from Yuma his catchphrase "I'm feeling the flow!" and every success through it, regressing him to the depressed coward who never (among other things) met his Spirit Advisor Astral and became a proper Duel Monsters player. Without his fighting spirit, Yuma is too scared and almost forfeits the Duel, which Trey doesn't acknowledge, and can't even stay on his feet until Astral and the Emperor's Key break the spell.

    Audio Plays 
  • Big Finish Doctor Who
    • As it turns out, this is the hidden twist behind "The Holy Terror": here, Eugene Tacitus is discovered to have complete control over the void-like Pocket Dimension, having created the Castle and all of its inhabitants as a manifestation of his perfect fantasy world; however, he's also been imprisoned within the Castle as punishment for murdering his son, and has lost all memory of both his powers and his life before incarceration after centuries of ritualization. By the time the Doctor meets him, he's employed as a lowly bureaucrat and truly believes himself to be "worthless" — up until his perfect world suddenly turns Black Bug Room with the arrival of the Child, the living incarnation of his crime. It's never made clear if some alien entity is punishing Eugene for his crimes, or if his own subconscious is torturing him.
    • Combined with Heel–Face Brainwashing in "Master". Here, the Doctor has made a deal with Death to erase the Master's memories and give him a new life in the human colony of Perfugium, where he can be at peace away from Death's influence. Now unaware of the Time Lord powers he still possesses, the Master assumes he's just an ordinary human being with a disfigured face, takes on the name of John Smith, and even becomes a well-respected doctor in the town. Unfortunately, the fact that he's still biologically a Time Lord causes problems: the Master's personality is not happy about being pushed out of the limelight, and though he can't control John directly, he's able to use John's telepathic powers to subtly encourage people around him to succumb to their darker natures. Add to that the fact that Death is actively manipulating the setting to her advantage and the Doctor's hopes of redeeming the Master permanently are dead in the water by the story's end.
    • The final story of "Circular Time" begins with Nyssa (years after leaving the TARDIS for good) meeting the fifth Doctor in a dream: believing himself an ordinary human being, he is now married and has retired to an isolated farm with his wife and children. However, he's snowed in by a blizzard and continuously haunted by a strange white figure circling the building... along with a disembodied Evil Laugh. It's eventually revealed that the story is set during "The Caves of Androzani", and the Doctor is just about to regenerate. However, the Master is psychically interfering with the process in an attempt to trap him in a Dying Dream and keep him from regenerating. Fortunately, the Doctor has been telepathically reaching out for help from his former companions, hence Nyssa's presence in his dreamworld: once she destroys the illusory farmhouse and reminds the Doctor of who he really is, the psychic energies of her, Adric, Tegan, Turlough and Kamelion all combine to overwhelm the Master's interference and usher the Doctor into his next regeneration — finally explaining the visions he experienced in "The Caves of Androzani".

    Comic Books 
  • In the penultimate confrontation of Captain Britain: A Crooked World, the eponymous hero faces off against reality-warping prime minister Mad Jim Jaspers. Though at first Captain Britain seems confident in his ability to go on fighting, Jaspers unleashes his powers on him — and next thing he knows, Brian Braddock is waking up from a coma with no sign of his powers, briefly indicating that his adventures were just delusions. This lasts only for a page before Jaspers wakes him up again; apparently, he did this just to demonstrate how meaningless the good Captain's powers are in the face of a Reality Warper.
  • Sensational Wonder Woman: Played for Laughs — when Diana finds herself in a Mind Prison courtesy of Dr. Pyscho, Diana's greatest subconscious fear is apparently being a married 1950s-style housewife.
  • Doctor Who Magazine: In the story “John Smith and the Common Men” the Doctor is trapped in a nightmare world by a parasite, who puts him in a world where he’s a Lovable Coward whose clothes are a uniform at his workplace and is hyper focused on everything. It’s implied that Clara was trapped in a similar one, where the Doctor didn’t exist.
  • In an anniversary issue of The Flash during Barry Allen's tenure as the titular speedster, the villain Abra Kadabra sought to pull this on Barry by putting him in a situation where he'd be tricked into thinking that the iconic lightning-chemical bath, instead of giving him his powers, actually left him with horrible skin-burns. Kadabra even set up illusions of Barry's friends coming in to try and convince him that he'd never been a superhero, but rather that he'd been in a coma following his hospitalization. Near the end, though, Barry managed to defeat Kadabra after noticing a key detail that the villain had overlooked. Kadabra had brought in an illusion of Professor Zoom to taunt Barry, something which, if the supposed reality was true, should be impossible, as Zoom's origin was inspired by the Flash — basically, if the Flash never existed, then logically Zoom shouldn't exist either.
  • This is occasionally used by the heroes against threats that would be problematic to deal with under ordinary judicial systems. One classic example happens in JLA (1997) when the genocidal White Martians are brainwashed into believing they're normal humans.

    Fan Works 
  • The Power of Seven: Chapter 70 sees Harry basically trapped in one; the dream he was sent into via the Draught of Living Death has him stuck in a version of the life he would have experienced if Hogwarts hadn't been real, still living with the Dursleys and attending Stonewall High as an average student in ill-fitting clothes who's forbidden to do anything but come straight home after school, with no friends or any particular drive to do better.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Captain Marvel (2019), the Kree make Vers believe that she has no powers. They tell her that her abilities come from a Kree implant. In the end, she discovers that she is imbued with superhuman strength, energy projection, and flight, and that the implant was actually suppressing her powers.
  • In the first half of Glass (2019), David Dunn, Kevin Wendell Crumb, and Elijah Price are captured and put in a mental hospital, where their doctor tries to convince them that none of them have any actual superpowers.
  • Invoked in Shutter Island and combined with Cuckoo Nest for good measure. In the climax, it appears that heroic US marshal Teddy Daniels is going to be brainwashed into believing that he was just a helpless mental patient all along, just so he won't break the news of the conspiracy going on at the eponymous Bedlam House. Daniels even has to keep drawing attention to the fact that he's a marshal just so he can hang on to the fact that he still has authority. And then it's completely subverted when it turns out that the entire film has been a massive roleplaying scenario created to break him out of his delusions: nothing in the story has been real, and "Daniels" a.k.a. Andrew Laeddis was insane all along.

  • Crops up in Lotus-Eater Machine form in Animorphs: The Ellimist Chronicles. After crashing on an ocean world, Toomin is forcibly connected to a planet-wide Hive Mind known only as Father and finds himself in an illusion of his carefree life back on Ket. In exchange for amusing Father through games of skill and chance, Toomin is provided with an imaginary life where he remained an ordinary gamer and never became the heroic leader of the Ketrans. Here, he can be reunited with his friends, marry Aguella, start a family, and even grow old if he wants... but he doesn't really enjoy it, especially since he knows full well that none of it's real and everyone he's ever known and loved has died; however, he agrees to Father's terms because the games are all he has left. In the end, Toomin escapes the illusion by winning at enough games to hijack Father's nervous system and absorb all of the entity's collected knowledge, thus paving the way for Toomin's transformation into the Ellimist.
  • The big twist in the first of The Curse Workers novels is that Cassel isn't a Muggle Born of Mages after all: he's actually a transformation worker and has been brainwashed by his brothers into forgetting his powers — except on occasions when they need an assassin who can effectively kill people without leaving any kind of evidence. As such, reclaiming his powers and saving one of his past victims forms a major part of the story from then on.
  • Discworld: Played for Laughs with the Bursar, the University accountant who's gone insane from prolonged daily contact with Archchancellor Ridcully, who is basically everything an accountant would deem wrong with the world. He's given dried frog pills (made from the kind of tropical frogs whose poison induces hallucinations) in order to hallucinate that he is sane (as Discworld magic training mostly consists of not using magic, his magic manifesting is treated as more of an annoyance than a catastrophe).
  • Forever Knight has a tie-in novel called "Imitations of Mortality", where Nick becomes increasingly trapped in a dream world where he's human. Strangely, he's increasingly tired while awake and has to find out what's causing it all.
  • Labyrinths of Echo: This happens in "Volunteers of Eternity", when Max travels from Echo back to our world, but upon arrival, assumes that his adventures in Echo were All Just a Dream. Fortunately, this delusion falls apart as soon as he tries using the magical powers he learned in Echo. In the next novella, it is revealed that said delusion was the result of an insidious psychic attack launched at Max by the villain-of-the-week while he was traveling between the worlds.
  • This is a common practice at Brakebills School of Magical Pedagogy in Lev Grossman's The Magicians. Because the study of magic is so intensive, the faculty take pains to weed out anyone who doesn't live up to the college's high standards via a ridiculously difficult entrance exam: those who fail have all memory of Brakebills and what little knowledge they have of magic expunged, before being sent on their way. As it turns out, this is the fate of Quentin Coldwater's friend Julia; however, thanks to a minor error in the cover story she was given, she manages to unearth what really happened and begin studying magic as a Hedge-Witch, as The Magician King demonstrates.
  • In The Nekropolis Archives: Dead Streets, Matt and Devon end up getting collected and imprisoned in a stasis field by Orlock. Soon after, they two of them find themselves plunged into a comforting illusion in which they were never a one-of-a-kind zombie detective and a half-vampire superheroine, but two perfectly ordinary human beings living a normal suburban life on Earth as a married couple with children of their own. However, it ultimately falls apart once traces the real world begins bleeding into the illusion, allowing Matt and Devona to awaken.
  • In The Silver Chair, the Green Lady has managed to enslave Prince Rillian for years by hypnotizing him into believing that he is a general in her army and that his life aboveground was a dream. When Jill, Eustace, and Puddleglum arrive to rescue him, she uses her powers to try and convince them that Narnia doesn't exist and that their heroic adventures so far were just delusions.
  • In Robert A. Heinlein's short story "They", a man suffering from paranoid delusions and megalomania is locked up in an insane asylum. He believes that he is an immortal being and that the entire universe is a false reality that he has been trapped in by unknown enemies. The Karmic Twist Ending is that all of his beliefs are correct: he is a supernaturally powerful being brainwashed into thinking that he's a normal human.
  • Tsun-Tsun TzimTzum: At one point, Noah is thrown into a false reality where he's back in Ohio and his adventures were just a vivid dream he had while in a coma after a bus crash.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Normal Again", hallucinogenic demon venom causes Buffy to have visions of a world in which she's been in a mental hospital for years and her battles against evil supernatural entities were just delusions.
  • Charmed (1998): In "Brain Drain", the Source gets a hold of Piper and exploits her desire for a normal life by sending her into a coma, where she dreams that she's a mental hospital patient and her "sisters" are actually her delusional roommates. For extra kick, he, masquerading as a doctor in the dream world, claims that the recently deceased Prue didn't die, she was just released from the facility. The end goal is to goad Piper into casting a power-relinquishing spell to render the Charmed Ones powerless.
  • Doctor Who: The two-parter "Silence in the Library" and "Forest of the Dead" frequently interrupts the main adventure in the planet-spanning library with the doings of a nameless little girl. Apparently living in a mundane 21st century neighborhood on Earth, she can somehow see the Doctor's visit to the Library in her dreams — or on TV — and even has the power to control certain events there with the TV remote; furthermore, the mysterious Dr. Moon actually warns her that her real life is just an illusion. The twist is that the girl is actually the Library's computer core, CAL — a.k.a. Charlotte Abigail Lux. Having been uploaded to the computer as a child to save her from terminal illness, she is normally capable of near-godlike control over the planet, but when the Vashta Nerada appeared and began attacking the patrons, CAL tried to rescue all four thousand visitors by saving them to her database — only to end up suffering a system overload in the process. As a result, she's accidentally inflicted this trope on herself, living out her fantasies of being an ordinary little girl in a virtual reality environment.
  • Forever Knight: When Nick Knight suffers from amnesia after a gunshot wound, Natalie is surprised to see him eating normal food in hospital. She tries keeping the secret of his vampirism from him in the hope that it will lead to further improvement (she believes that vampirism is similar to addiction and Nick could be cured if he stopped drinking blood altogether). Unfortunately, this doesn't last very long as he still experiences Blood Lust and is burnt by the sun.
  • The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Beyond the Stars" features Captain Ben Sisko abruptly going from the respected administrator of the eponymous space station and Emissary of the Prophets... to a sci-fi writer on Earth in the 1950s, struggling against the racial prejudice and brutality of the time. However, he isn't aware of who he really is at first, being fully taken in by the illusion, only becoming aware of it in apparent hallucinations of his life in space. It's eventually revealed that this is a vision from the Prophets intended to inspire him not to lose hope in his fight against the Dominion.
  • In the final episode of The Haunting of Hill House, the surviving Crain siblings are lured into the Red Room and trapped in their personal Lotus-Eater Machine: Theo finds herself in bed with Trish and without her powers, fully assimilated by the illusion. Though she enjoys the fact that she can be touched without experiencing disturbing stimuli for a change, she eventually asks for it to stop — whereupon the illusion turns nasty. In the end, she has to be rescued by Nell's ghost.
  • Overlaps with Cuckoo Nest in Legion (2017). During the apparent final confrontation with the Devil with Yellow Eyes in "Chapter 5", David and his allies are plunged into a mental recreation of the asylum from the beginning of the series and convinced that they are mundane, powerless human beings. Completely assimilated by the illusion, they remember nothing of their real-life experiences and regard any idea of their powers as facets of mental illness; amusingly enough, the normally-troubled David actually seems quite content with his new life, believing himself to be well on the way to recovery. Oliver Byrd ends up having to awaken most of the group from the brainwashing so they can attempt a breakout, while David rediscovers himself after the Devil tries to pull a Grand Theft Me on him and — with a little help from his subconsciousness — breaks free with a massive telekinetic blast.
  • As with the original novels, The Magicians (2016) features Julia failing the Brakebills entrance exam and having her knowledge of magic erased, before eventually regaining it by joining a gang of Hedge-Witches. However, following an angry confrontation with Quentin, she and fellow Hedge-Witch Marina take revenge on him in "The World in The Walls" by trapping Quentin in a dream of a mental asylum and making him believe that his entire Brakebills experience was just a hallucination — all just to give him a taste of life without magic. It turns out that Marina is actually using this as a Batman Gambit to steal something from the campus; after realizing that Quentin will end up trapped forever, Julia chickens out and tries to save him — only to end up getting kicked out of the Hedge-Witches as well for "betraying" Marina.
  • In the Grand Finale of Mr. Robot, Elliot ends up in an alternate universe where he is a happy, well-adjusted member of society and "Mr. Robot" is just a comic-book character that he came up with. It later turns out that this is a fantasy that the real Elliot Alderson has been trapped in; the Elliot we've been following for the past four seasons is actually an alternate personality who took over Elliot's body during a nervous breakdown that happened just before the series began.
  • The Red Dwarf episode "Back to Reality", the boys from the dwarf end up getting a dose of hallucinogenic venom from the Despair Squid, sending them into an illusory scenario in which the events of the series were just a virtual reality game they were playing over the course of the last four years. Most of the four are even more pathetic than ever before as a result: Rimmer is no longer a hologram, but is a homeless man and lacks what little achievements he possessed on Red Dwarf (and he's also Lister's half-brother); Kryten is a cyborg traffic cop with zero authority and eventually a death on his conscience; Cat's arguably been hit the hardest up front, having gone from an effortlessly-cool evolved cat to a hopeless dork by the name of Dwayne Dibbley. Lister's the odd one out, being rich and successful... but only because he's actually a mass-murdering official in the totalitarian government that runs the world. Essentially, the illusion is meant to force the crew to the Despair Event Horizon, and it's up to Holly to snap them out of it before all four of them commit suicide.
  • In the Smallville episode "Labyrinth", a Phantom wraith traps Clark in a mental nightmare dreamscape where all of his powers and previous interactions with friends and foes are actually part of a paranoid schizophrenic delusion resulting from a psychotic break five years prior. The wraith, who is masquerading as Clark's treating physician Dr. Hudson, nearly succeeds in convincing Clark that a lobotomy-like operation will relieve his delusions. However, Martian Manhunter is able to sneak into the dreamscape as a fellow patient and convince Clark to kill Dr. Hudson and free himself from illusion.
  • In The Umbrella Academy (2019), it's eventually revealed that Alison Hargreeves was once ordered to use her Compelling Voice to delude Vanya Hargreeves a.k.a. Number Seven into becoming a Muggle for all intents and purposes. For good measure, the victim was regularly supplied with superpower-neutralizing mood-suppressant drugs, disguised as medication for a non-existent anxiety disorder. Disaster strikes when one of the villains of the series discovers Vanya's powers and steals her prescription with the intention of using her against the rest of the Academy — turning the shy Token Muggle into an Apocalypse Maiden.
  • WandaVision:
    • It's eventually revealed that anyone who enters Westview is immediately incorporated into the dream world and made to conform to the conventions of the sitcom era being explored that episode, often forgetting their old lives in the process; the only exceptions to the rule are Wanda and Vision themselves, who are fully aware of their powers because Wanda's responsible for creating and maintaining the dream world in the first place. Among Wanda's circle of friends, however, Geraldine actually used to be Monica Rambeau, an astronaut and Badass Normal agent of S.W.O.R.D. before the Hex transformed her into another powerless sitcom resident.
    • In the finale, Wanda brainwashes Agatha Harkness into the Nosy Neighbor persona she previously used to disguise herself in Wanda's dreamworld, condemning the witch to spend the rest of her life as a bubbly sitcom character with no memory of the power she used to wield — until such time as Wanda needs her advice.

  • In episode 19 of Eidolon SKA, a newly aggressive Charlie uses her eidolon Three Small Words (which can convince anyone that a three-word sentence Charlie says is fundamentally true) to tell Naomi "Eidolons aren't real". They immediately forgets the supernatural elements of the case they've been working on with the Mystery-Solver's Club, and in their head their own eidolon gets locked in a prison cell.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the Old World of Darkness crossover game Midnight Circus, one of the unfortunate supernatural beings who've been "recruited" into the lowest ranks of the eponymous Circus of Fear is Dimitri Babinov, a Gurahl werebear. Following his enslavement, he's been gradually worn down by the corruption field until he's forgotten his old identity, his powers, and even the basic ability to shapeshift, and now truly believes himself to be a tame bear. These days, Koba the clown most commonly uses him as a performer and (occasionally) an executioner. However, if you can get through to Babinov, it might be possible for you to awaken him — resulting in an immediate Roaring Rampage of Revenge against Koba.

    Video Games 
  • This appears in the climax of Control: the game seemingly ends — complete with credits — when Jesse is infected by the Hiss, sending her mind into a nightmarish illusion where she never became the superpowered director of the Federal Bureau of Control, but instead lives out her days as an office temp at the FBC (which isn't even the paranormal research organization it is in reality, but instead a mundane homeland defense group). In sharp contrast to her stoic, confident former self, she's shy, demure, and constantly bullied by just about everyone in the building, forcing the player into an endless Mini-Game of collecting coffee cups and delivering mail. However, with a little encouragement from Ahti, Jesse realizes that's something's wrong, and eventually breaks free by rediscovering the power of Polaris within her, backdooring into the Oceanview Motel with help from Dr. Darling and unleashing her rediscovered powers on the Hiss.
  • In The Darkness 2, Jackie Estacado finds himself periodically slipping into an illusory world where he's a patient in a mental hospital, where all his friends and enemies are either patients or staff, and his life as an Anti-Hero empowered by the Darkness was just a delusional fantasy. Eventually, the Darkling (disguised as a janitor) reveals that this is just the Darkness trying to keep Jackie distracted in situations where he's been injured enough to end up in the Hell realm it presides over — because if Jackie ends up there this time, he'll find that Jenny is being held prisoner there. In the climax of the game, Jackie is given a choice between staying in the asylum with an illusory Jenny to comfort him or jumping from the balcony to his "death" to escape the illusion and rescue the real Jenny. It's up to you...
  • During the mission to save the Circle of Magi in Dragon Age: Origins, you and your companions are lulled into an enchanted sleep by a Sloth Demon. Emerging in the Fade, all of your companions end up being trapped in their own respective dreams and nightmares — some of which are essentially this trope:
    • Alistair has been convinced that he abandoned the life of a heroic Grey Warden and is living happily with his sister and her many, many kids, having finally achieved his dream of having a loving family of his own. You break him out by drawing his attention to the blanks in his "memories" within the fantasy.
    • Leliana is back in the Chantry at Lothering, a lowly lay-sister with no idea who you are, no memory of her prophetic vision, and no notions of saving Ferelden in the name of the Maker. For good measure, she has a Revered Mother around to chide her for daring to imagine that she could have a higher purpose in life. You snap her out of it by reminding her of the sign from the Maker, prompting Leliana to realize that the real Revered Mother wouldn't be trying to discourage her.
    • Oghren has ended up lost in a nightmare of his life before you met him: back to being a dishonored warrior and a drunkard, he's relentlessly picked on by his fellow dwarfs, regarded as an embarrassment wherever he goes, and unable even to summon the will to retaliate. All he can do is keep drinking and hope that everyone will go away sooner or later. You awaken him from the illusion by inspiring him to get angry enough to resist the sense of futility and fight back.
    • Shale is returned to Honnleath square, back to being an inanimate statue left on display - as they were for over thirty years prior to the events of the game. You are able to end this delusion by reminding Shale that the golem control rod no longer has any power over them.
  • Fallout 3 springs this on the players during the mission to Vault 112: upon discovering James imprisoned within one of the Tranquility Loungers, you take a seat in one yourself in an attempt to rescue him... only to end up in the virtual-reality neighborhood of Tranquility Lane, a suburban cul-de-sac modeled on 1950s-era sitcoms. Here, you're not only stripped of all your equipment but regressed to the age of ten — meaning that all those hard-earned skills and powers you gained out in the Capital Wastelands are useless until you can escape. For good measure, it eventually becomes apparent that the Loungers can erase your memory and alter your personality, ensuring that the illusion of normality is utterly unbreakable for most of the residents; fortunately, you're spared the extra mile of mental manipulation for as long as you remain amusing to Vault 112's overseer, Stanislaus Braun. Breaking out requires you to either indulge his sadistic whims or sabotage the scenario from within.
  • This is the big twist of Knights of the Old Republic: the player is actually the legendary Sith lord Darth Revan, having been captured by the Jedi after being betrayed and nearly killed by Darth Malak; essentially, the Jedi set you up with Fake Memories of being an ordinary human being — either a soldier, a scout or a smuggler, depending on the player's chosen career. However, you weren't intended to remain this way forever, as it was hoped that with Bastila's guidance, you could pinpoint the way to the Star Forge using the fragmentary memories that you retain, and even become a Jedi — which you end up doing. However, remaining true to the Light or falling to the Dark Side again is up to you...
  • Saints Row IV:
    • After being captured by Zinyak, the Boss wakes up to find themselves in a Mind Prison based on 1950s suburbia; here, they're brainwashed into believing that they're a mild-mannered Standard '50s Father-type, happy in their mundane sitcom life, incapable of the Boss's usual feats of spectacular violence — to the point that the game actually prevents you from driving dangerously, and though they're still President, it's a totally powerless celebrity position. Fortunately, the brainwashing eventually breaks down, allowing the Boss to break free with Kinzie's help.
    • Following her own capture by the Zin later in the game, Kinzie is plunged into the same Mind Prison: here, she's reduced from a badass hacker with borderline administrator-level control over the simulation to a passive, subservient and completely oblivious sidekick to Cyrus Temple — wearing a poodle skirt, no less. It takes the Boss firing up stereos all over town with rebellious music to snap Kinzie out of the illusion, whereupon she unlocks her simulation superpowers and kicks Cyrus's ass.
  • Invoked by the Black Signal a.k.a. John in The Secret World. Having caught you trying to access his memories, he inflicts a Poke in the Third Eye that forces you to replay memories of past incidents and battles, including a scenario in which you were never bonded with one of the Bees and became one of Gaia's Chosen. From here, John taunts you by suggesting that you're just an ordinary human being who accidentally swallowed a bee and is now in hospital, dreaming of being special. Unfortunately for John, replaying your memories eventually results in him encountering a vision of Lilith, hammering his Trauma Button so hard he turns the Mind Rape on himself. The event ends in a truce.

  • In Mob Psycho 100, Mob and Reigen are hired, along with other psychics and exorcists, to purge an evil spirit from a girl. Mob tries to fight against it by going into the girl's body but the spirit, named Keiji Mogami, turns the tables and puts Mob into a mental image of his neighborhood — only without his powers — where he's constantly beat up by images of people he knows. Worse still, though only 30 minutes pass in the real world, to Mob in the mental one perceives it as six months. Keiji's plan is to drive Mob over the Despair Event Horizon and get him to want to kill once he gives his powers back. Fortunately, Dimple manages to break into the mental world and draw Mob back from the brink, putting him back on focus to save the girl.

    Web Original 
  • SCP Foundation: Downplayed in the case of SCP-239. An eight-year-old girl with reality-warping powers, she's been convinced that she's actually a witch and can only cast "spells" from a pre-approved list, all as part of an effort to limit her powers to manageable levels. Not quite down to completely normal levels, but definitely a drastic power loss given that she's actually Goo-Goo-Godlike — and while uncontrolled, has managed to do things like summon Santa Claus. Unfortunately, this approach no longer works, and 239 is now being kept in a medically induced coma in order to avoid a potentially apocalyptic incident.

    Western Animation 
  • Batman: The Animated Series: "Perchance to Dream" begins with Bruce waking up one day to find himself living a life where he isn't Batman; his parents are alive, he's engaged to Selina Kyle, and is otherwise living the happy life he's always dreamed of. He almost writes off his life as Batman as delusion until he notices he can't read anything and realizes he's trapped in a dream world. He spends the rest of the episode being hunted down by the dream Batman, all the while desperately trying to convince himself that he isn't going insane, before finally waking himself up by committing suicide in the dream world (he was betting on Your Mind Makes It Real not being in play, and figured death was the more merciful fate if it was). It turns out he was the victim of a Lotus-Eater Machine set up by the Mad Hatter.
  • Batman: The Brave and the Bold: In "Emperor Joker!", the Joker gains Bat-Mite's powers and uses them to torment Batman by repeatedly killing and resurrecting him. Batman defeats him by begging him not to destroy his sanity; when the Joker tries to do just that, he finds himself outmatched by Batman's highly disciplined mind. The Joker finds himself in a dreary version of Gotham City where he is nothing but a perfectly normal average person, a prospect that dismays him so badly that he agrees to give up the powers to escape it.
  • Codename: Kids Next Door: In the context of the series, this is invoked on agents that turn 13 so as to keep them from turning against the agency by decommissioning (i.e., erasing) their memories, specifically so they can leave without the knowledge of the ins and outs of the organization which can make them a threat if they go evil (Chad and Cree being examples of this, having left KND before this could happen). The movie, Operation: Z.E.R.O., uses this as a plot point as Grandfather was defeated back in the past by wiping his memories, turning him into a docile old man. Father uses a gadget that re-commissions KND agents to restore his memories, bringing his terror back into the world. Sector V beat him by launching their moon base in such a way that it crashes on Grandfather and puts him right into the decommissioning chamber, wiping his memories once again.


Video Example(s):


"You're Normal."

Trapped in the Red Room, Theo Crain finds herself trapped in a vision of her time with Trish - except she has no psychic powers, no memory of her need to help her family, and no idea why her gloves are important.

How well does it match the trope?

Example of:

Main / NightmareOfNormality

Media sources: