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Residual Self-Image

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Perhaps SCORPIO has dreams to become organic.

Residual Self-Image is what you get when a Virtual Reality, Spirit World, or other alternate plane of existence designs the appearance of souls, spirits, or avatars in its domain off of personality and how people think of themselves, rather than real-world appearance.

In fiction, a world seen through residual self-images will often have Beauty Equals Goodness in effect, or else the absolute inverse. (Self-hatred might skew things a little.) Gender and (sometimes) species may be different in that VR than in the real world. Odds are, there will be a set of appearance tropes the VR is using to translate personality into looks...

Compare to Healthy in Heaven and Out-of-Clothes Experience. Supernatural versions that shows a discrepancy between visible sex or gender often fall under Supernaturally-Validated Trans Person.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Ayakashi Triangle:
    • At the start of the manga, Matsuri is transformed from male to female, which also lengthened and bleached his hair. Despite this, his thoughts often show his original body besides his current one (even his hair in unchanged). A chapter appropriately titled "The Shape of the Spirit" shows this is more than a visual, as when Matsuri put some of his spiritual energy into Lu to exorcise an ayakashi from her, she sees his male form (for the first time, confusing her). An omake also showed him as still male in his dreams. Matsuri has remained quite literally a boy in a girl's body. Eventually, we do see Matsuri's self image as a female, but if this is the Second Law of Gender-Bending taking effect or just an arbitrary depiction for the audience is unknown.
    • When Suzu was young, she created a Split Personality without Past-Life Memories, the Suzu the story follows. The original personality, latter called "Kanade", remains in Suzu's mind, keeping the appearance of a five-year old even as Suzu is fifteen. Kanade even has the same long hair before the Important Haircut that signified their personalities splitting.
  • In Digimon Adventure 02, the DigiDestined always have the same outfits in the Digital World regardless of what they were wearing beforehand, which are completely different from anything they owned in reality.
  • In Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation, when Rudeus first meets Hitogami in his dreams, Rudeus perceives himself as the thirty-something Japanese man he was before he died, rather than as the boy he's been living as in the ten years since he reincarnated.
  • In the So I'm a Spider, So What? anime, Kumoko still thinks of herself as a cute girl reincarnated as a spider. As a result she perceives herself as being a cute(ish) spider with a highly expressive face which in turn is how the audience sees her most of the time. Without that self-image, other humans view Kumoko as a horrifying spider.

    Fan Works 
  • In Know Thyself: the Prelude, Trinity is nearly moved to tears when she looks at Harry's self-image on his first return trip to the Matrix, dressed in baggy grey clothing that's still too large for him, showing his lack of self-confidence after years of abuse.
  • Later, Traitor: Vernon Tripe (a 10-year-old boy) appears as a wise old storyteller inside his mind, giving the reader an idea of how he sees himself.
  • In the Animal Crossing fic Slice of Heaven, Rover is The Grim Reaper and his character customization questions help shape your form in the afterlife.

    Films — Animation 
  • Turning Red: When the Lee family undergoes a ritual to exorcise their Panda spirits, they enter a spiritual realm and usually retain their normal appearances there (aside from invariably having the hair color they would have if they were bound to their panda spirit). That is, except for Ming, who looks the way she did when she scarred her mother after losing control of her emotions as a teenager. It takes Mei's guiding hand, along with her mother's forgiveness, to get her to return to her normal age, symbolizing her finally letting go of the past and her desire for control.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Avengers: Endgame has shades of this when Bruce Banner meets the Ancient One in 2012. By this point Bruce is permanently in Hulk form as a fusion of the two personas, but when the Ancient One knocks him out of his body, he's in his purely human appearance.
  • Deadpool 2: The third time Wade Wilson is having a Near-Death Experience, he finally goes through the invisible wall to reach Vanessa. In doing so, he no longer looks like a mutant disfigured by cancer, but his original, handsome self (i.e. Ryan Reynolds without make-up).
  • The Matrix: Trope Namer. A person's avatar within the Matrix is generated by a combination of will and programming parameters established by the Matrix. This appearance can be markedly different from the "outer" self. One cut example was Switch, who was female in the Matrix but male in the real world (in the final film they're female yet androgynous as an homage to the original idea).
    Morpheus: [speaking to Neo in the Construct] [...] Your clothes are different; the plugs in your arms and head are gone. Your hair has changed. Your appearance now is what we call "residual self-image". It is the mental projection of your digital self.
  • Surrogates has this trope in spades given that literally anyone can carry out their everyday lives through a robot that looks exactly how they'd like it to. Age, race and gender are decided by the user.

  • In Accel World, duel avatars are something like a cross between this and Personality Powers - appearing as robotic beings with traits that represent the Burst Linker's traumas. In the Crossover story Versus, a glitchy VR device results in Kirito from Sword Art Online becoming connected to Brain Burst; the system's attempts to normalise his data result in him taking on the appearance of his longcoated SAO avatar.
  • Non-Spirit World or VR example: This is precisely how magical healing in The Cosmere works. You are rebuilt back to your "cognitive ideal." This can be beneficial (e.g. you've never accepted or internalized a lost limb, so it starts to grow back as soon as you get some Mana) or harmful (e.g. your Slave Brand doesn't heal because you've internalized the baggage that comes with it, and alterations heal away because they're not part of the template).
  • Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover uses this trope in "the Overworld", the spiritual/mental plane that some laran users (especially healers and monitors in the Towers) operate on. A person's appearance in the Overworld seems to be determined entirely by their self-image. In one memorable case, the Overworld form is a huge crab-like being.
  • In Johannes Cabal and the Fear Institute Cabal and the three FI members journey to the Dreamlands and find their apprances changed to reflect their inner dreams-one looks like a swashbuckler, another a merchant, and the last a magistrate. Cabal himself doesn't change at all (though his gun turns into a sword because guns aren't poetic enough for the Dreamlands) because as one of them puts it "he's already what he wants to be."
  • In The Skinjacker Trilogy, the appearance of children in Everlost is based on what they think of themselves. If some can remember exactly what they looked like when they were alive, then they'll look that way in Everlost, but their appearance can change if they think about one of their features too much (for example, someone uncomfortable about a large nose might have it get even bigger, and someone proud of their long hair might see it grow even longer). There are two extreme examples of this: Nick had chocolate on his face when he died, and he keeps thinking about the smear until it expands and starts to take over, and Mikey McGill, when falling to the center of the earth, pictured himself as a monster clawing his way back out, and remained that way after he escaped. He reverts back to his real appearance after his sister shows him a locket containing a picture of himself.
  • Sword Art Online: After two years of being trapped in a videogame and forced to fight for their lives, the survivors of the SAO Incident have internalised aspects of their avatars to the point where they reflexively attempt to reach for their weapon or open menus in real life (though the game also modified their avatars to reflect their real-life appearances in order to prevent too much dissonance). In the Alicization arc, this results in SAO survivors being able to transform their Underworld avatars into their SAO ones through Heroic Willpower, as a side-effect of the consensus reality system that Underworld uses to fill out its finer details.
  • In The Wounded Sky by Diane Duane, every time the Enterprise uses the experimental drive, the crew members experience a reality based on how they perceive themselves. While Kirk's self-perception is never actually described, McCoy provides a solid clue when he asks "Is that armor getting heavy, Jim?"

    Live-Action TV 
  • On an episode of Angel, Cordelia has an out-of-body experience after her powers begin to take a toll on her body. Skip the demon, her guide, remarks that astral appearances works like this; he says that most people he meets project an idealized image of themselves, and is impressed that she just looks like herself.
    Skip: You're a remarkably self-confident individual, you know that?

  • Red Panda Adventures: In "The Darkness Beyond", Kit and John Doe enter a spiritual plane in order to find out what's happened to an Eldritch Abomination that's suddenly up and disappeared. While there, their forms, and even the dimension itself, shape themselves based on their own perceptions. Despite being on the tail end of pregnancy, Kit identifies as her superhero persona, the Flying Squirrel, so much that she appears in full costume and a more svelte figure than she ever had in reality. John Doe, meanwhile, appears in his original identity and appearance of "John Archer" even though he has been masquerading as the Red Panda, to the extent of changing his face, for several months by that point.

    Video Games 
  • In Dreamfall Chapters ,when Zoë makes it to Arcadia in Book Three, she appears in appropriate clothing (if a little overdressed for the neighborhood, as she points out), her hairstyle is back to what it was in the first two books (although pinned back) and she no longer has her scar or dermal patch.
  • In Ghost Trick, a ghost's appearance depends on what they believe they are. This leads to a gag where a character's ghost momentarily took the wrong appearance, as well as the twist that the main character isn't who the player expects.
  • The Matrix: Path of Neo and Enter the Matrix, being part of The Matrix, have this for all the rebels. Both are also an example of Beauty Equals Goodness.
  • SCORPIO from Star Wars: The Old Republic. She is a highly advanced droid that loathes being labelled as such. Several instances have her appearing in human form via holographic technology. It's a point of interest that she chooses to look like this freed from the confines of her physical body, whether or not this is a default display, a disguise she merely favours or that it hints at a deeper longing to be more than a machine is still up for debate.

  • Bob and George: When George enters X's mind to save the others he's assimilated, he meets Protoman's core personality, which resembles a human being instead of a robot. Dr. Light explains that he designed his robots to be as human as possible, so their core personalities naturally would resemble humans.
  • The Order of the Stick:
    • Roy discovers that everyone in the afterlife Lawful Good plane looks like an ideal version of themselves. His father looks the same as he did when he died, an old man, because he always was a Grumpy Old Man at heart, even when he was young. His mother, however, looks young and hot, because she never stopped thinking of herself as a 19-year-old looker.
    • Durkon in the Dwarven afterlife looks like he did before being vampirified. His true self not only is lacking the teeth and pasty skin of a vampire, he's also wearing his usual armor (the vampire was destroyed wearing robes) and his beard is at full length (the vampire's got shortened by a slash of Roy's sword).
  • In Yokoka's Quest, when Copycat enters Mao's dream, Mao is wearing a recently acquired set of clothes that Copycat hadn't seen before, and that Mao wasn't currently wearing (as he's asleep in his nightwear). He also appears as a cat boy, despite hating his aspect of his appearance and wanting to revert to being human.

    Western Animation 
  • In the third season of Avatar: The Last Airbender, Aang visits Avatar Roku in the spirit realm. While there, Aang has his traditional shaved head and Air Nomad robes, rather than the short hair and Fire Nation disguise he is currently wearing.
  • Masters of the Universe: Revelation: It is mentioned that one can choose their form in the afterlife. When He-Man sacrifices himself and temporarily dies, everyone is surprised that he chooses to be the scrawny Prince Adam instead of the muscular He-Man.