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No Object Permanence

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In psychology, object permanence is the ability to recognize that an object continues to exist even when you cannot see, hear, or touch it. In Real Life, everyone eventually develops this trait in their infancy, usually between 8 and 12 months of age.

In fiction, it doesn't always work like that. A good source of comedy is to have a person who should have developed this trait behave as though they never did. An object can be in plain view one second and then hidden from view the next and this person will react as though the object is no longer there, even though it hasn't actually been removed from the room. In a more serious usage, inducing this can be a kind of superpower in fantasy/sci-fi stories.

Use of this trope will often show a severe failure of logic. Characters lacking object permanence will have, at the very least, a normal memory, even though the ability to remember anything depends on object permanence. If you believed that this article only existed while you were reading it, you would find yourself unable to remember it later. This is not a problem in fiction land.

A common aspect of Artificial Stupidity. Compare Living Motion Detector for when object permanence depends on the motion of the object. Do not confuse it with No Ontological Inertia, which is when an object really is impermanent.

See also Head-in-the-Sand Management, which is the foolish belief that if you ignore something bad it will stop being a problem and go away, Ostrich Head Hiding for the Animal Stereotype that ostriches as a species behave this way, and Safe Under Blankets (hiding under blankets), which may involve this trope.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Jojos Bizarre Adventure Golden Wind: Notorious B.I.G. is a massive, utterly indestructible monster, but it isn't impossible to stop. This trope is one of its biggest weaknesses; it can only sense movement, and once it senses a new source of movement, it immediately targets it and completely forgets about whatever it was pursuing before. During her fight with it aboard an airplane, Trish uses this to her advantage by hitting the chairs; Notorious B.I.G. lunged at the wobbling chairs and ignored her entirely until the next time she moved.

    Film — Animated 
  • Home on the Range: Slim's idiotic minions are unable to recognize him when he is in his disguise and think that he has suddenly vanished and been replaced by somebody else when he puts it on. He tries putting the disguise on one piece at a time while they are watching him and they still think he has vanished as soon as he puts the glasses on.
  • Bing Bong in Inside Out is implied to suffer from this, since at one point he "hides" by just sitting on the ground and covering his eyes. If he does, it'd be justified, since Riley imagined him at an age where her own object permanence was still developing.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In Son-Rise: A Miracle of Love, autistic toddler Raun struggles with this. When Barry waves a cookie in front of him, he follows it with his face and tries to grab it, but when Barry places it behind a napkin, Raun completely forgets about it.
  • In quite a few zombie films this is a recurring trope; due to the fact zombies are usually shown to have some form of brain damage (hence their feral state).
    • In the Dawn Of The Dead remake, zombies will cease to attack if eyesight is broken even for a second, only attacking again when they hear noise or regain eyesight of their target; in the original this is Averted as the dead can not only remember where you are after they stop seeing you but they can even remember where you were hiding, before they even became zombies.
    • In Dog House the zombies don't attack a building for very long if they cant see their prey. When they evolve halfway through the movie however, this ceases to become a problem for them.
    • In Train to Busan: The zombies forget their targets exist if they lose sight of them for even a split second, this also applies to any sort of darkness as its implied that their eye sight has been damaged in some way during their transformation.

  • The "Forgettable God" in American Gods invokes this in whoever interacts with him. Any information about him is instantly forgotten, although the advice he gives that is not related to him is remembered as some hunch out of nowhere.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy:
    • Inverted with the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal, which is such a stupid animal that it thinks if you can't see it, it can't see you.
    • In The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Zaphod and the gang encounter the Ruler of the Universe, who happily accepts a Solipsistic view of reality:
      "How can I tell," said the man, "that the past isn't a fiction designed to account for the discrepancy between my immediate physical sensations and my state of mind?"
  • In the Isaac Asimov's Robot City series, two specialised security robots ordered to guard a valuable object have trouble with this concept — so, rather than lock the object in a safe, they keep it on a table so they can watch it all the time. This doesn't turn out to be a very good strategy.
  • In Piers Anthony's Mute, the hero's mutant power is that once he leaves the view of another person, that person completely forgets him.
  • The title characters in Nobodies by Jennifer Lynn Barnes have this as an inherent power. Generally, no one sees or notices them anyway, due to a Perception Filter power, but those who do quickly forget about them the minute they aren't looking anymore.
  • In Ray Bradbury's short story "No Particular Night or Morning", one of the astronauts develops this due to being in space too long, starts worrying that people, things, even places stop existing once he leaves or otherwise can no longer directly see them, and goes slowly insane as a result.
  • The Gap Chasm in the Xanth series had a Forgetfulness spell on it that caused something like this: Anyone who went to the Gap Chasm would promptly forget that it existed upon leaving.
  • In the early going of the Stephen King novel Cell, the people who have been brain-zapped by The Pulse display this attitude, in between attacking anyone who comes into view.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In season five of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Big Bad Glory's magic causes anyone who sees her transform into Ben immediately forget that such a thing happened - except Spike, for some reason, who is extremely annoyed that he has to keep explaining this to everyone else. Justified since A Wizard Did It.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Silence are a race of aliens with the power to make people forget their existence the moment they aren't being observed.
    • Played for Horror in "Wild Blue Yonder". The Not-Things are trying to figure out physics on the fly while impersonating both the Doctor and Donna. In one scene, Donna clocks that the Not-Doctor isn't real when she looks down and sees that the tie he'd dropped earlier has disappeared.
      Not-Doctor: Oh, I see! When something is gone, it keeps existing...
  • In the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode "Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders", a poorly executed magic spell causes Mike to sort of revert to being a baby.note 
    Baby Mike: Well, Servo's gone. And he's not right in front of my face, so that means he's never coming back. That upsets me. Waah.
  • A Saturday Night Live sketch, "Dense and Densibility" (a mash-up of Sense and Sensibility and Dumb and Dumber) features two sisters who are so stupid that, among other things, whenever someone leaves the room they say, "Oh dear, X is dead."
    • In "The Californians: Karina Returns", Brad takes off his fake mustache, revealing him to be Karina in disguise. Devin then asks where Brad went.
    • When Terri Hatcher was the host during the height of the popularity of her show, Lois & Clark, in her opening monologue, several cast members came out and put on glasses, and suddenly, she couldn't recognize them.
  • In the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Unforgettable", an alien race called the Ramuran give off pheromones that interfere with long-term memories. Once a Ramuran leaves another creature's presence, the other creature will have completely forgotten about ever meeting the Ramuran after a few hours.
  • In the Wizards of Waverly Place episode "All About You-niverse", Alex attempts to hide herself from her mom after having "borrowed" money from the Sub Station to purchase a vending machine. After Alex hides, Zeke begins talking as if Alex is no longer in the room, even though all she did was cover herself with a sheet.

    Video Games 
  • This happens to the Projectonist in Bendy and the Ink Machine, as the moment you hide inside a Little Miracle Station, he stops looking for you. This might perfectly be a case of Artificial Stupidity, but it could also show how truly mentally gone he is.
  • Bioshock 2: Little Sisters will cry over their dead Big Daddies until Delta or Sigma approach them, at which point they'll instantly cheer up and treat him as though he was the daddy that she had previously been following.
  • Another Good/Bad Bug invoking; the first Brute necromorph of Dead Space will forget that Issac is around when he goes down the stairs on the Ishimuras bridge.
  • One of the Good Bad Bugs of Half-Life 2 allows you to hide behind even the smallest cans and certain Combine officers won't be able to see you as long as you can't see them.
  • Touhou Chireiden ~ Subterranean Animism introduced Koshi Komeiji, who can invoke this trope in others. She's a mind-reading satori who can no longer read minds, even her own, leaving her to wander the world, acting on her own subconscious impulses, ignored by almost everyone. Koishi's presence can only be felt if she's in the center of someone's vision, and unless they knew about her beforehand, they'll forget about her as soon as she leaves.

    Web Animation 
  • The Amazing Digital Circus: Kinger seems to have an issue with this. On several occasions, he'll be standing directly next to someone (usually Gangle), only to be shocked by their presence the next time he looks in their direction.


    Web Original 

    Web Video 
  • In the Real-Time Fandub Games Gag Dub of Resident Evil 2 (Remake), Claire exploits Mr. X's lack of object permanence by going in and out of the room he's in to troll him. Whenever she leaves and closes the door behind her, he immediately wonders where she went and walks away from said door to look for her.
  • Badman has this problem, first with Two-Face (thinking that he'd done something to Harvey and "Scary-Face"), and later when making fun of Clark Kenting, as Commissioner Gordon takes off his glasses and utterly fools Batman.

    Western Animation 
  • A Running Gag in The Emperor's New School is Kronk's inability to realize that Principal Amzy is actually Yzma in disguise, no matter how many times does she have to reveal it to him in a dramatic fashion.
  • An episode of Family Guy has the usually hyper-intelligent Stewie playing peak-a-boo with Peter. Whenever Peter puts his hands over his eyes, Stewie thinks his father has disappeared.
  • Doofenshmirtz from Phineas and Ferb can't recognize Perry the Platypus without his hat; if Perry takes off his hat in front of him, he assumes Perry has somehow switched places with a regular platypus. Perry uses this to his advantage all the time.
  • The Rugrats (2021) episode "The Bubbe and Zayde Show" revolves around Tommy not comprehending that the maternal grandparents he has video chats with don't live inside his tablet.
  • Steven Universe: In "Three Gems and a Baby", Garnet unfuses in front of Steven in order to show him that he can unfuse too (since she thinks he's a fusion). Steven, who is only a few months old at that point, looks around in distress, grabs at the air above Ruby and Sapphire, and promptly begins to cry.
  • Peep and the Big Wide World:
    Quack: (Annoyed) Behind me!
    (Peep runs behind Quack)
    Peep: Found it!

    Real Life 
  • Truth in Television for very young infants. If you meet someone who isn't a very young infant and has a pattern of acting like this, you should take them to a psychologist.
  • This can also manifest in adults as a symptom of anxiety and/or OCD. Mild cases may have an adult checking their purse or pocket to make sure, for example, that their cell phone is still where they put it; extreme cases can interfere with a person's employment or social life.
  • The old myth that ostriches bury their heads in the sand is based on this; the idea is that an ostrich is so stupid that it assumes any threat it can't see isn't real. In truth, ostriches stick their heads in the sand to manage their nests. When they actually want to hide, they simply get down as low as they can on the ground or conceal themselves in the nearest suitable shrubbery.
  • Solipsism is the epistemological view that only one's own mind is certain to exist; therefore anything outside your own mind might be an illusion. This creates a wide array of philosophical and metaphysical difficulties.
  • Philosopher George Berkeley (1685-1753) advanced a theory called "subjective idealism" which maintained that objects only exist in the minds of perceivers and therefore do not exist if they are not perceived— "esse is percipi (to be is to be perceived)." He got around the obvious Logic Bomb by arguing that objects don't simply blink out of existence when no one is around because they are constantly being perceived by God (who is The Omniscient, after all).
  • The British musician Clive Wearing suffered a mental condition that brought about profound retrograde and anteretrograde amnesia, meaning not only did he lose most of his prior memories, but that he is unable to form new memories that last for more than a few seconds. An object in front of him may as well have just appeared if he blinks. His wife Deborah describes the situation like this:
    "His ability to perceive what he saw and heard was unimpaired. But he did not seem to be able to retain any impression of anything for more than a blink. Indeed, if he did blink, his eyelids parted to reveal a new scene. The view before the blink was utterly forgotten. Each blink, each glance away and back, brought him an entirely new view."
  • A.I.s have not progressed far enough to have developed this yet, which is why scripts generated by "trained" neural networks have the weird, dream-like surrealism that they do. The A.I.s know that people should be saying lines and interacting with objects, but without object permanence they just create speakers and objects as needed, which blank back out of existence just as quickly when the AI thinks of something else. (Incidentally, this is the best way to tell real ones from people using the "I forced an AI to watch X hours of <Popular Thing> and this was the result" format for a joke. The ones written by people will have object permanence; characters persisting from scene to scene or managing to stay on a single topic are dead giveaways.)
  • This is why infants in all cultures find the game of "Peekaboo" so amusing, as their minds have not fully developed object permanence yet. For all they know, you may have really disappeared when you cover your face, and thus they are delighted to see you unexpectedly pop back into existence.
  • Henry Molaison was a man who contributed to brain science and was instrumental in demonstrating how memories formed... after surgery removed the part of the brain that turned out to be crucial to forming memories (as a cure for epilepsy, which did indeed work). He would forget things minutes after seeing them, but strangely, repetitive activities led to forming some memories.


Video Example(s):


"Where'd she go!?"

During a game of Resident Evil 2, a player manages to exploit the limited AI of Mr. X by closing the door. Hilarity ensues as a group dubs over the footage.

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Main / NoObjectPermanence

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