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Possession Burnout

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Castiel: What's wrong with your vessel?
Lucifer: Yes, um... Nick is wearing a bit thin, I'm afraid. He can't contain me forever.

When a demon, ghost, or other body stealing/possessing force takes control of a body, it causes the body to rapidly decay and get the wear and tear of a lifetime over a few days or months. Removing the being isn't a guarantee of undoing the damage, and staying for too long in the same body will likely kill the host before long.

This is different from (but may happen in conjunction with) Transformation of the Possessed, which is where a body is changed to resemble (or become) the possessing entities' original body, and tends to be stable. It's more akin to Power Degeneration, and in fact use of superpowers can hasten the decay. This trope applies to both living, dead, and undead bodies; usually living bodies last longer and dead ones decay at a much faster rate, the trade-off being that corpses don't put up a struggle. One way to get around this is the creation of a Custom-Built Host strong enough to resist it, though if that's impossible, mass production may be required. This may come about because normally the being possessing the body might only be in them short-term, but has somehow become Trapped in the Host.

Some stories may play with the trope and have undead beings like zombies or vampires or inanimate objects suffering little or no decay, but having dulled senses/finesse.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Bachilus in Birdy the Mighty is a parasite that requires a new body to inhabit every so often, due to this possession burnout. We see one of his bodies go to its limit and fall apart, after which he gets a new one, by consuming Geega, his (until then) boss.
  • In Blue Exorcist Satan is so powerful that there's no body in the regular world can contain him for more than a moment without destroying itself.
    • Some very tough people possessed by him will suffer Blood from Every Orifice; most people spontaneously burst into blue flames. Either way, their deaths are quick and painful.
    • Turns out to be a common issue for his children, the Demon Kings known as the Baal, as well who all suffer from it to some extent or another. Despite being the second most powerful son, Samael aka Mephisto suffers from it the least due to being King of Space and Time, letting him effectively stop the degradation of his body. His elder brother Lucifer is not so lucky.
  • Claymore: Basic Yoma need to switch bodies quickly before their hosts die from the strain of flawed Awakening, so they force their hosts into extreme hunger for human bodies. It is not known if this type of yoma is actually sentient or just a worm.
  • Dante from Fullmetal Alchemist (2003); that's the main reason she needs the philosopher's stone since she needs it every time she transfers to a new body. Also it's stated that each body lasts less than the previous one. And since Hohenheim has also swapped bodies at least once, it also happens to him; this is the main reason why he abandoned his family.
  • An Evil Mask that served as an early Monster of the Week in Inuyasha causes its host to age and decay so fast that it's reduced to crude oil in under an hour. It sought a host that could sustain it full-time.
  • Naruto: Orochimaru faces this issue after being forced to transfer into a body. While recovering from the transfer process, his body began to break down and required a constantly escalating regime of medication. Whether this was due to incompatibility or the damage done by the Third Hokage is unclear.
  • Sailor Moon: Hotaru during the third season. It's not clear how much of this was Mistress 9's influence, given how she was sick to begin with, but it's obvious that the possession certainly wasn't helping. Also a relatively rare case where it's implied that, had Hotaru indeed died before Mistress 9's resurrection, Mistress 9 would have died with her. The manga also implied that some of her illness was thanks to burnout on the end of the cybernetic parts her father implanted her with.

    Comic Books 
  • In the crossover miniseries Batman/Judge Dredd, the Dark Judges team up with the Joker for a plan that involves one of their own possessing the Chief Judge to put out a warrant on Judge Anderson. The thing is, Judge Mortis' primary power is decaying anything he touches, so his host starts to fall apart within a few hours.
  • In Final Crisis, Darkseid's minions are frantically bioengineering new bodies for the New Gods of Apokolips because they destroy the human bodies they possess fairly quickly.
  • This is the primary trick of the Legion of Super-Heroes member Quislet: he's an Energy Being who can possess inanimate objects and shape them into combat-capable forms. However, he can't stay in something for very long (aside from his football-sized ship), and if he leaves something once, he's done possessing it, it crumbles to dust. He doesn't mind the downside, though, as it lets him deliberately jump between objects in rapid succession to disintegrate them.
  • Robin (1993): Johnny Warlock appears to die of a combination of the side effects of his superpower granting possession and a brutal beatdown by Robin, who knew he was outclassed and was desperate to keep Johnny from killing anyone else. While Robin feels horrifically guilty about this "murder", Johnny just gets back up and walks off after being delivered to the morgue. His possession burnout leaves him near skeletal and immobile on at least one more occasion but it's just a temporary setback for him.
  • The Supergirl villain Worldkiller-1 burns out any body he possesses if his host isn't strong enough to contain his spirit. In Red Daughter of Krypton he possessed a baseline human, and his victim's body melted in a matter of seconds.
  • Wonder Woman (1987): Those Ares possesses start literally burning, and when he's done with them they burn up until all that's left is a smoldering pile of bones. It usually starts with their faces and skin melting off.
  • The X-Men villain Proteus "burns out" anybody he possesses; by the end stages, his victims look like walking corpses. This was censored in the television adaptation, where it was shown that possession by him caused extreme fatigue instead.
    • In Exiles, it turns out that Morph's unique physiology means that he doesn't burn out as a result of being possessed by Proteus and ends up being his permanent host (after Proteus's personality is put to sleep).

    Fan Works 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In The Dead Center, John Doe's body is a wreck — catatonia, amnesia, shaking, labored breathing, coughing fits, etc. — due to this, and it's possible that the demon transferred to Dr. Forrester because John's body was too badly damaged in their final encounter.
  • In The Empty Man, Lasombra is created as a new host for The Empty Man when the original host starts to degrade.
  • The Hidden: The reason why the evil alien needs to switch bodies much more frequently than its good counterpart is because of the drastic wear and tear it inflicts on its hosts. When it possesses an old man with a stomach ailment, it actually has trouble keeping it alive and simply covers its wounds with duct tape. It bleeds out within minutes after he ditches it for a younger one.
  • The Egyptian god Horus runs into this problem in Immortal, as he can only successfully possess pure humans unaltered by genetic modification. As most of the humans in 2095 New York are augmented in some way, they eventually die after he takes over their bodies. Nikopol is suitable as a host body precisely because he's still unaltered, having spent time in a Cryo-Prison for several decades.
  • People possessed by Jason in Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday eventually melt into goo.
  • The Bug Alien from the first Men in Black movie. By the end of the movie he has grey skin, can barely talk or walk. In this case, it has more to do with the bug wearing an "Edgar Suit" made of flayed skin, so it is natural decomposition.
  • Star Wars: In The Rise of Skywalker, this is the fate of Palpatine after his first death in Return of the Jedi; he transfers his spirit into clone bodies of his original self, but none of them are able to contain his power and very quickly degrade, becoming more and more corpselike in appearance over time. Unfortunately, the exact specifics of this process are only detailed in supplementary material.
  • In Venom (2018), this is a hazard of hosting Symbiotes. If the host and Symbiote aren't compatible, the host suffers basically a whole-body transplant rejection. If they are compatible, they can stay together indefinitely, but if the Symbiote isn't fed properly, it will turn to cannibalizing the host.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Deadlands: Hell on Earth inverts the trope; the cyborgs are robotized dead bodies possessed by demons, which are being used as fuel for the mechanical body.
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • The Monster Manual III, introduces the Effigy, a fiery undead spirit that literally immolates its host.
    • The AD&D 2E psionics supplement includes a power called Switch Personality that enables its user to literally exchange minds with another, effectively possessing them. However, both swapped bodies degenerate over time (represented as a temporary Constitution loss per skill check failure) unless the caster switches back to their original body; if either body hits 0, both are doomed. A creative player, though, could just swap to a creature with no Constitution score, hence auto-passing the skill check!
    • Forgotten Realms has deities very strongly involved in the world's affairs. They are known to possess people sometimes, but can't keep the body in a good shape for long even in the perfect circumstances — it's simply Too Much for Man to Handle.
      • In the backstory, Elue Silverhand voluntarily got possessed by Mystra, in order to give birth to the innately Semi-Divine Seven Sisters. Her husband noticed that something very unhealthy was going on, and with an expert's help managed to determine that "some very powerful entity" was riding her, but not who — naturally, if the goddess of magic tries to keep a personal secret, everything else is down to guess-work. Since nothing else was working, Dornal decapitated his wife to "free" her from the possession. From this point it all got more awkward for everyone involved, of course.
  • Human bodies don't last long when possessed by an Elder Demon in Hunter: The Vigil. There's even a mechanic to track the process of the bruises turning into actual rot. Elder Demons can avoid this by possessing objects, but that restricts their powers. What they really want is to become an evil Genius Loci...
  • Princess: The Hopeful: In a pinch, a Goleanu spirit can possess Stormwracked humans, but this damages both the spirit and its host. This is one of several reasons why Goleanu prefer to use their golem-Vessels if given a choice.
  • Vampire: The Requiem: The strix can possess mortals just as well as vampires, but possessing a mortal outright kills the host, which means the body doesn't really keep all that well.
  • In Warhammer 40,000, this happens to daemonhosts, along with (and partly because of) the Transformation of the Possessed.

    Visual Novels 
  • Fate/stay night:
    • Zouken Matou is constantly suffering from this. His method of prolonging life is by possessing and molding other bodies by filling them with worms, but each body lasts for a shorter time than the previous one; by the time the game starts, he can only remain in a body for a few months at most. It turns out that the problem is not so much the degenerating quality of his stolen bodies, as it is the fact that his very soul is decaying. This is why he wants the Holy Grail, as it can allow him to achieve immortality not through a wish, but through its true function, the creation of the Third Magic.
    • In the Heaven's Feel route, Shiro is implied to be suffering from this. Having Archer's left arm grafted onto him grants him Archer's stronger projection magic, but various scenes imply that Archer is actually still alive through the arm and dominating Shiro's mind whenever his powers are called upon (making this a case of Powers via Possession). Because Servants have much heavier souls than normal humans, Shiro suffers from backlash whenever he uses the arm - eventually, when he uses it too much in a small time frame, it inflicts brain damage and causes swords to start growing out from under his skin, and in one Bad End Shiro outright becomes a vegetable due to using it too much too quickly. Even right after he receives the arm, Rin and Kirei need to put a magical seal on it to prevent it from causing this trope due to merely being attached to his body. And it's only thanks to the fact that Archer is the potential Future Badass version of Shirou that the grafting procedure worked at all in the first place.
  • Individuals unlucky enough to be possessed by Michael Roa Valdamjong in Tsukihime die instantly once he leaves and possesses the next body. The only exception to this rule is Ciel, who somehow managed to survive and gained all the advantages of Complete Immortality as a result.

  • In El Goonish Shive, it is implied that this happens eventually to hosts of Body Snatcher Abberations given that it was expected that Ellen would go into a deep sleep for a few hours after being released from Sirleck's short duration possession.
  • In Gunnerkrigg Court, Whitelegs' possession of Jack Hyland gradually degrades his sanity and is very taxing, but it's not clear whether it is harmful on its own, because it "enhances" him enough to manifest Powers via Possession, or simply because he never sleeps all this time. When the possession ends, he instantly collapses, though later gradually recovers.
  • In The Greenhouse, Mica and the demon 'Red' are stuck with each other, bound by an abandoned summoning spell and blood. While they eventually come to terms with each other, this trope is still very much in play, because Red needs to eat. The longer Red stays, the thinner Mica's soul becomes. Mica is noted to be unusually resistant to this (and that was after just a few days of remaining both alive and sane), but by the time they're finally separated, Mica's soul is regularly slipping into Red's home plane, with presumably disastrous consequences if Red didn't keep catching it. Not even Red knows what will happen if this is allowed to run its course, and she is rather averse to the idea as long as she's trapped for the ride.

    Web Original 
  • In Noob: La Quête Légendaire, Dortös implies this applies to his Grand Theft Me victims to an extent, due to talking about using his first host until his ressources run out. It however seems to be slow enough that he can actively search for a more compatible host and the video-game context implies his Player Character host will get out of it with lower Hit Points rather than outright dead.
  • SCP Foundation: SCP-035 is a malevolent comedy mask that takes control of anyone who wears it. The host bodies don't last long since they undergo accelerated decomposition until they become mummified corpses. SCP-035 has expressed interest in SCP-682, since 682's regenerative powers could theoretically allow the mask to use it as a permanent host. Of course, the Foundation is keeping them separated at all costs.
  • Tales From My D&D Campaign: The Dark Ancients are Warforged who have escaped the inevitable degeneration of their living construct bodies by learning to detach their minds, stealing the bodies of younger Warforged. However, stolen bodies burn out three times faster than the normal rate. True constructs are even worse, lasting for mere months before the neural circuitry is burnt out beyond repair.

    Western Animation 
  • In The Legend of Korra, Wan wanted to be able to bend multiple elements to fight Vaatu. The Lion Turtle explained to him that humans lack the energy needed to bend more than one element at a time. To get around this problem, Wan allowed himself to fuse with Raava every time he needed to bend multiple elements. Holding a spirit and its extra power inside his body was extremely dangerous. Raava warned Wan that if she stayed inside him for too long he would die. In the end they solve the problem by making the fusion between their spirits permanent by tapping into the Harmonic Convergence, starting the Avatar Cycle.
  • When the gods of Onyx Equinox possess mortals, their hosts' bodies quickly warp and degrade under the divine influence, ultimately crumbling into dust or melting into a puddle.
  • The Owl House: In the first episode of the third season, the bit of Belos-goop that came through the portal during "King's Tide" has been infecting and taking over woodland animals like rabbits and deer, consuming them from the inside out until only their skeletons remain. Hunter, who gets possessed during the climax of the episode, is able to drive Belos out before it's too late, but is left Covered in Scars and barely clinging to life, only surviving because Flapjack sacrifices his own life to save him. Raine ends up in a similar, but less severe state in the finale due to Belos possessing their puppet form, thus leaving them with tear-like scars below their eyes and visible marks on their right ear and arm.
  • Horde Prime in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power has survived for millenia by Body Surfing between clones of himself, their bodies unable to handle his consciousness without constant maintenance. He implies that he could possess Catra in the same fashion, but would burn her out even faster than his clones.
  • X-Men: The Animated Series: As mentioned in the comics section, hosting Proteus is not easy on the human body. However, while in the comics it's invariably fatal, in the show he naturally never gets to stay in one body long enough for irreparable damage to be done.