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Sanity Slippage

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Get some sleep Jack, jeez.

"Now, madness, as you know, is... like gravity. All it takes is a little push!"
The Joker, The Dark Knight

A character has been a bit... off for a while now. Maybe they just haven't been themself, maybe they've been struggling with who or what they are, maybe they've gone as far as painting a Room Full of Crazy while reciting a Madness Mantra, or maybe they've gone through a Madness Makeover, but it's apparent from their actions that their rational mind is losing its grip, and they are sliding inch by inch toward insanity.

The end result of this varies, depending on the tone of the series and who the character is. If the series is dark and edgy, they may go on a murderous rampage. On the other hand, if it's light and soft, it may just be Played for Laughs, becoming a source for their hilarious dialogue and wacky plans. A villain is likely to have a Villainous Breakdown resulting in Karmic Death, while a hero will just have a Heroic BSoD and then get better.

Occasionally, a character will be seen holding back their insanity and generally keeping it in check, until that final straw breaks the camel's back and they finally snap, having a massive Freak Out.

And most rarely, the Sanity Slippage is the effect of being Gaslighted by a villain.

A common way to demonstrate this process is Mundane Horror: when some weird and unsettling details appear in everyday life, this may be the first sign that a character is losing his grasp on reality.

A Super-Trope to Sanity Slippage Song.

Compare Go Mad from the Revelation, Freak Out, Villainous Breakdown, Room Full of Crazy, Madness Mantra, Laughing Mad, Driven to Madness and With Great Power Comes Great Insanity. If this is a backstory it's Pre-Insanity Reveal. Compare Slowly Slipping Into Evil. The opposite of Sanity Strengthening.

Example subpages:

Other examples:

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    Alternate Reality Games 
  • Omega Mart: The "Exceptional Customers" are people who have clearly had their sense of reality and well-being deeply messed up by the Omega Mart shopping experience. Workers are encouraged to keep them hydrated, speak calmly, and coax them into buying more stuff.

    Films — Animated 
  • Ursula of The Little Mermaid. While not a good character, she was sane and composed during most of the film. However, when she transforms into Vanessa, its implied that she lost quite a bit of sanity (to the point of becoming a borderline Ax-Crazy) when turning into her, as she talks to her mirror in a manner similar to a schizophrenic, emits a psychotic grin when throwing a pin at a mirror's head with enough velocity to knock the mirror back, and most certainly kill a person had that been a human being, not to mention her cackling.
  • In Open Season 2, Fifi begins to lose most of his sanity after getting the fur on his forehead burned during a chase. Over time, his eyes begin to get more and more twitchy. Ultimately, Fifi tries to kill the wilds with the shock collars in revenge, but then realizes that Elliot put all the collars on him. Fifi survives, but the electricity makes him lose all of his fur, humiliating him.
  • Ratatouille: Skinner goes through this throughout the entire movie, to the point he starts making conspiracy theories regarding Remy's presence. Even his lawyer asks if he should be worried about his client.
  • In The Secret of the Magic Potion, Sulfurix was never a very stable individual to begin with, but his sanity keeps deteriorating over the course of the film. He seems to completely lose it once he realises that Getafix did not transmit the full recipe of the Magic Potion to Teleferix.
  • In The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water, everyone in Bikini Bottom loses it after the formula is stolen, becoming savage and selfish. Sandy is a more noticeable example, as her treedome is converted into a Room Full of Crazy, and she keeps prophesing about "The End".
  • Toy Story: Buzz doesn't take the revelation that he's a toy particularly well. During his Heroic BSoD, he gets drunk on imaginary darjeeling at Hannah's tea party, breaks into maniacal laughter and crowns himself Mrs. Nesbitt, and eventually peels off and throws away his wrist communicator sticker. It takes a You Are Better Than You Think You Are speech from Woody before Buzz eventually regains his senses.
  • Up: Charles Muntz is an implied example. Psychologically speaking, the years have clearly not been kind to him.

    Multiple Media 
  • MonsterVerse:
    • The Colonel Kilgore of Kong: Skull Island becomes increasingly unhinged the longer he and his men are stranded on the titular Isle of Giant Horrors, progressing from unloading bullets into monsters with a look in his eyes like the shark from Jaws, to pointing his gun at his fellow survivors when they disagree with him, to finally trying to get himself and everyone else killed in a mad dash to kill Kong.
    • It's not obvious until later on, but Emma Russell in Godzilla: King of the Monsters has definitely lost some of her marbles due to her unresolved grief over the death of her elder child who was caught up in Godzilla's previous battle against the MUTOs. Emma wants to save the world as a way to respect her child's memory, but the way she intends to do that is by unleashing every Kaiju on the planet so they can kill millions, and she's the only character in the movie who doesn't recognize the ginormous cognitive dissonance required to come to this conclusion, even going so far as to state that she's never been clearer-headed when she's arguing with her ex-husband.
    • In the graphic novel The Birth of Kong, which ties the above two films together, a member of the new expedition to Skull Island goes crazy after he drinks too much of the natives' medicinal brew, experiencing splitting headaches and visions (or hallucinations) of the island's inhabitants, which culminates in him shooting his comrades' rescue down with a rocket launcher because he doesn't want anyone to leave until they've made "communion" with King Kong.

  • The Magnus Archives: Jonathan, the primary viewpoint character, spends most of the first season becoming steadily more unhinged as the nature of the job starts to get to him.
  • Season four of Mission to Zyxx sees this happen to Pleck as his lack of purpose drives him to conspiracy-theory extremes and bizarre ritualistic behavior.

  • Bleak Expectations: A few days on a dessert note  island drive Pip Bin utterly mad, to the extent that he loses track of time, and considers eating himself, only relenting when he realises this is "probably a bit of an own goal". He quickly recovers when he finds someone to boss around.
    • Played for Drama with Harry Biscuit's mother, who after her husband died started believing she was literally a biscuit (named Susan), and dunked herself to death. After that, the Biscuit fortune was taken by their rivals, the Flapjacks, and Harry was sent to St. Bastards.
    • Subverted with Pip Bin's own mother, who after the death of her husband starts sitting in linen closets and claiming to be a tablecloth married to a curtain, before moving on to bizarre interior decorating tips (replacing the walls with geese, putting scatter cushions on fire), and then believing she's the host of a cooking show. In Georgian England. Only it turns out she was faking it, and the minute her husband returns she goes back to normal.

  • Kevin Low from NEWGAME+, after countless slights against him, begins to believe the world is against him, as he begins to slip even more, he starts to have spans of time where he wishes vengeance upon his friends. "He smiles at the twitching bloodied body, he knows she is still alive, but he wants her to suffer. She has become a proxy for every single person who hurt him, every situation bent on beating him down. and now they all are suffering. and it pleases him."

    Pro Wrestling 
  • Edge began to gradually lose his mind as he kept getting closer to a Hell in a Cell match with The Undertaker. It took Mick Foley to tell Edge that he needed to let loose to have a hope of winning, culminating in a two-word "No More Holding Back" Speech: "I understand."
    • The entire summer of 2008 was this for Edge. After losing the World Heavyweight Championship to CM Punk, things fell apart and it was a long, drawn-out ride off the slope for him. The above incident with Foley was just the straw that broke the camel's back.
  • Randy Savage became increasingly paranoid of other wrestlers trying to make moves on Miss Elizabeth as time went on, which in truth, they were. But as it is said, just because they're out to get you doesn't mean you aren't paranoid.
  • Randy Orton infamously started to lose it after his first world title run, which involved his friend and mentor, Triple H, ousting him (forcefully) from Evolution in a fit of jealousy. Cracks began to show in The Legend Killer's suave persona over the next few years, and a Wrestlemania feud with (and loss to) The Undertaker shoved him over the deep end. His partnership with Edge managed to keep him in check for about a year or so, but after that fell apart there was nothing stopping his descent, culminating in his first feud with Cena which saw him attack Cena's father. By 2008, he was more-or-less gone, and by 2009 he had fully become the "Viper" that continues to terrorize WWE over a decade later.
  • Brian Pillman, due to an increasing string of injuries cutting down on his in-ring time.
  • This is how ECW explained the transformation of narcissistic Johnny Polo to the chronically depressed, manipulative cult figure Raven.
  • Having his mask stapled to his head and then being hung by Ring of Honor's Hang Men 3 really took a toll on Delirious's sanity. As the name implies, he was already a Cloudcuckoolander but the experience drove him Ax-Crazy enough to concoct a poison designed to restrict the airway, which he stored in his mouth!
  • Mickie James's obsession regarding Trish Stratus started about as innocently as an obsession could conceivably be (she used Trish's moves in new ways, hung around, sung her praises, etc). But then Mickie started giving up her own good fortunes for Trish, first admirably but the detriment of her own health. Then Mickie started dressing like Trish. Then she got jealous of anyone who spent any significant time with Trish, be it Trish's preexisting protegée Ashley or Trish's boyfriend Chad. When Mickie basically rested her head on Trish's crotch and refused to move it, that was enough for Trish, but the descent of Mickie's sanity had only just begun.
  • R-Truth turned heel after losing out on a WWE Championship opportunity. And after that, his mind.
  • Daniel Bryan. Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! And after A.J. Lee left him at the altar, it turned into: No! No! No! No! No!
  • In 2010, poor Shawn Michaels started losing his mind after not being able to beat The Undertaker at WrestleMania XXV. And after WrestleMania XXVI, his career. He regained his sanity at this point.
  • In her route to the SHIMMER singles championship belt, Madison Eagles went from a silly lady in pink to obsessively dedicated to prying the belt away from MsChif. After she did, it only got worse, to the point she defined her very existence by the title and became jealously paranoid of it, equating any criticism that might in anyway relate to her, any kind of success by anyone else, as being part of some agenda to take it away...leading to the Memetic Mutation of the SHIMMER belt being an Artifact of Doom only "demons" like the aforementioned Chif could handle.
  • A.J. Lee's descent into insanity began when Bryan first dumped her after Wrestlemania — needless to say, he would regret it. It's been over a year and AJ still hasn't regained her sanity yet.
  • Su Yung had been slipping toward insanity since at least 2009 thanks to an inferiority complex regarding Tracy Taylor. A tour of Japan was supposed to help her get better but thanks to a few encounters with "Sweet" Saraya in SHINE she seems to have completely lost it in 2014...completely.
  • If Su Yung's the long case, Kimberly Maddox is the alarmingly short one, as in two shows in two months short, over the fact she couldn't get a win in the Shine promotion. However, Leva Bates theorized that Kimberly already had narcissistic personality disorder, so she likely didn't start very far up the slope.
  • This happened to both Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns after Dean Ambrose left WWE in 2019, with the implication that Ambrose was serving as their Morality Chain. Rollins' big face run ended up collapsing thanks to bad booking and his own Out-of-Universe behavior, causing him to make a Face–Heel Turn involving developing a messiah complex before flat-out becoming a straight up Joker-expy. Meanwhile, years of fan vitriol and being constantly screwed out of the world title (in addition to never fully recovering from the trauma of the Shield's break-up) had been secretly eroding away at Reigns' sanity for a while, culminating in him snapping and becoming a sociopathic mob boss that was willing to brutalize and gaslight his own cousins into becoming his lackeys after the company attempted to freeze him out during the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Rather ironically, the exact opposite ended up happening to Ambrose (who used to be The Shield's resident Cloudcuckoolander), in that the stable's dissolution led to him becoming the Only Sane Man, since he was the only one to make any real peace with what happened.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Call of Cthulhu is famous for introducing the SAN attribute, which drops a little each time the players encounter a monster or cast a spell, or something.
    • Mechanically, most Mythos creatures and knowledge cause a San check. A failed check will generally make you roll, while a successful check will only deal one point. Most lesser mythos creatures can only inflict up to the max Sanity damage that roll can deal to a person before the character becomes Conditioned to Accept Horror. This also adds to a characters Mythos Knowledge score, which is subtracted from their maximum possible sanity (not to be confused with their current SAN score)
  • Characters in Eclipse Phase are very hard to kill permanently due to cortical stacks and backups, fortunately for GMs there's a mechanic called "stress points" that can cause psychological disorders or permanent catatonia if the PC lets them accumulate.
  • Exalted loves this trope:
    • The Solars gradually experience this as they become more and more godlike, from both the Great Curse and general detachment from humanity and less powerful divine beings.
    • Being close to a Primordial War survivor in the First Age can be dangerous, humiliating, and bad for your physical, mental, and social health.
    • Also happens to Infernals. They have access to Yozi Charms. Everything the Yozis are, is made of Charms. Most of the Yozis are insane, and their Charmsets tend to be arranged so that the good stuff with no drawbacks is padlocked by something with benefits that makes you a little crazier. The best example of this is Kimbery, who has an entire Charm tree (built on The Power of Hate) locked behind something that permanently skews the sanity of its user to be either more naive or more vindictive, depending on the chosen variant.
  • In Fading Suns, Psychics and Theurgists are prone to "Urge" and "Hubris" respectively.
  • The fan-made World of Darkness game Genius: The Transgression is unique in that players start out insane by nature of their profession, and as they lose Obligation start unconsciously altering reality to fit their delusions.
  • Everyone in New World of Darkness, from normal humans to blood-hungry vampires to reality-bending mages, has a Karma Meter. As you slide down the slippery slope, you tend to become a little more unstable with each step, until finally, humans are reduced to raving lunatics, vampires and werewolves go nuts and become meat-hungry animals, mages and changelings fly off the deep end and lose the ability to separate reality from fantasy, and prometheans lose hope of ever becoming humans.
    • With the Chronicles of Darkness rebrand, the Karma Meter has also received a rebrand to avoid moralistic associations of sin and mental illness, but some of the meters have been rejiggered to focus on sanity. Mortals get Integrity, reflecting their ability to deal with the sheer supernatural horrors they're exposed to. Vampires still have Humanity, but it can be affected by things that don't represent sin but rather represent the psychic weight of a divorce from the pulse of the mortal world (e.g., realizing you've been alive for a century).
  • The Old World of Darkness also has sanity-slipping Karma Meters, though not all splats have them.
  • Trail of Cthulhu iterates on Call's design with it's sanity/stability split. Sanity is the same as it ever was, but Stability represents how well put together are. Characters with low Stability definitely resemble the slippage, while high Stability allows even an insane cultist to fake normality.
  • Any Killer Game-Master worth the title can put this into any game.
  • A daily occurrence in Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000; living in an endlessly terrible Crapsack World will do that. Witches/psykers are especially vulnerable to Slippage, thanks to the source of their powers being the home of The Legions of Hell.
  • Also appears in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, it has a mechanic for going insane and lists quite a nice amount of mental illnesses for which your character can suffer

  • Burr shows shades of this in the song "The World Was Wide Enough" during Hamilton. It's particularly evident in the line "This man will not make an orphan of my daughter!"
  • The title characters in William Shakespeare's Macbeth and Hamlet gets an obsessive variety.
  • In The Medium by Gian-Carlo Menotti, Phony Psychic Baba suffers increasingly from delusions of someone touching her throat and childlike voices calling out to her as in one of the séances she and Monica put on. She suspects Toby of being the one who touched her, and interrogates him with increasing violence (being a Cute Mute, Toby never answers).
  • The title character of The Phantom of the Opera, though your mileage may vary on how sane he was to begin with. But he's definitely completely off the beam by the end, determined to have Christine at all costs, even if he has to blackmail her into marriage by threatening to kill her lover.
  • In Shrek: The Musical, Fiona has a moment of this in "I Know It's Today" from waiting to be rescued from a small room in a tower for over twenty years.
  • Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire as well as the film adaptation with Vivien Leigh.
  • Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street does this with its eponymous character via "Epiphany".

    Visual Novels 
  • Sakura in Fate/stay night. It's like everything anyone ever says to her is another stab at her self confidence. And then Shinji tries to rape her one more time, and then he'll tell Shirou about it. Yeahhhh things kind of go downhill from there. Oh, and she was already eating people in her sleep, passing out frequently and also quietly going crazy anyway. She does get better, however.
  • The Fruit of Grisaia: In her bad ending Makina goes through this after watching Yuuji die right in front of her. She proceeds to keep his rotting body in a trash bag talking to him, believing he is still alive.
  • Higurashi: When They Cry has this occur several times, almost once an arc, and often bloodily.
  • Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors has Clover, waking up and being forced into playing the Nonary Game. For a second time. She is fine over this. What gives her a dive in the deep end, is Snake's death. Apparent in the "Axe" ending.
  • The sister series, Umineko: When They Cry, reveals in the fifth arc that Natsuhi has slowly been losing it since Kinzo died two years before the story begins.
    • Arc 3 of Umineko also has Eva/Eva-Beatrice really losing it, first after finding the gold and then after Hideyoshi is killed. By the end of the arc, she's gone completely apeshit and shoots Battler.
  • Echo has a lot of examples. Basically everyone who has their own route end up very messed up. Well, that or Chase.
  • During the second act of Doki Doki Literature Club!, Yuri, who was previously kind of weird but sympathetic and harmless, starts to get increasingly overexcited just from being near the Player Character. She also rushes off to cut herself when she gets excited, something she presumably did earlier with much more moderation, and gets openly excited at the gory horror in the book she's reading. Though she's afraid of what's happening to her, she can't help it, and she starts getting aggressive towards the other girls and possessive of the player character. Perhaps her last flash of sanity is when she feels like vomiting after handing her last "poem" to the player character. Finally, she drives everyone else away from the clubroom and confesses her love to the player character with such delightful turns of phrase as "I just want to pull off your skin and crawl inside of you" before going Laughing Mad and stabbing herself to death. It's later revealed this was because somebody was affecting her mind to exaggerate aspects of her personality to motivate the player not to choose her to romance.

    Web Animation 
  • Alfred Alfer, the dog, has hit the event horizon of insanity by part one of Alfred's Playhouse due to the aftermath of loneliness and his childhood abuse and neglect, whereas in the Alfred Alfer Shorts he appeared relatively sane by appearance, aside from being a Cloudcuckoolander. He had a best friend, Phat Dawg, and held a job at a generic Taco Bell stand-in. Things had apparently turned sour in his psyche when, though a random occurrence, Alfred's memories of neglect and loneliness resurface as does his alter ego, dictator Pickles, in The Rise of Alfred Alfer. The Perpetual Limbo of the Room appears to be the segue from Alfred's initial psychotic break into the birth of the physical Playhouse.
  • Etra-chan saw it!: Akane cheated on her husband Kuroki with Akamatsu. When she tried to move in with him, she found out that he had a fiancee. This broke her heart and caused her to go insane. Since then, she began to hallucinate Kuroki everywhere demanding that she apologize. Her parents eventually hospitalized her.
  • Happy Tree Friends: Petunia goes through a horrifying example in the episode "Wishy Washy"; which is the first to establish her as a Neat Freak. As she and her house get dirtier, her mind slowly falls apart as she tries to get rid of all the grime. By the end of the episode, Petunia goes insane and commits suicide by skinning herself alive with a potato peeler in a vain attempt to clean herself up. This is notable for being the ONLY intentional suicide in the series.
  • Manga-Waido: At the end of "My sister messed up, but I ended up paying for her… But then…" Sayo's spoiled sister Hiromi gradually went insane and started to break everything in her parents' house after becoming a shut-in since her boyfriend dumped her, causing her parents to call Sayo for help, but she rejected the calls for all the abuse they put her through.
  • Malikar, the villain of a game Puffin Forest ran, had a form of Resurrective Immortality, being reborn every time he died, but losing the vestiges of his humanity as a consequence.
  • RWBY:
    • General James Ironwood is introduced as a decent man with a problematic over-reliance on military solutions even when told it's inappropriate. He acknowledges that it's possible to see things that aren't there, even after a battle ends, implying he suffers from PTSD. Then his robot soldiers are hacked, the city he's guarding is invaded, and The Heavy gives a speech implying the world's on the brink of war and Atlas might be behind it. From that point, Ironwood becomes increasingly authoritarian as he desperately struggles to control the situation and thwart the villains. His decisions increasingly hurt his kingdom while he becomes ever more intolerant of objections. The villains count on this, employing a Batman Gambit in Volume 7 to trigger his Trauma Button. Once it's pressed, Ironwood fully descends into villainy, becoming as dangerous a threat as the Big Bad herself, and an Arc Villain one volume later.
    • After assuming command of the White Fang, Adam Taurus shows increasingly violent, aggressive behavior. He's so obsessed with Blake to the point where the mere mention of the Belladonna name produces outbursts. He has to make efforts to calm himself down, and issues the order to kill the Belladonnas, a plan the Albain brothers are concerned could backfire if it radicalizes Menagerie's population against the White Fang by making Ghira a martyr. The Albain brothers contemplating removing Adam from power if he becomes too erratic. After Blake foils his plans to destroy Haven Academy, he tries setting off bombs that would have killed not only Blake and her supporters but also Adam and his followers; his own followers demand to know what he's doing. When his followers learn that he abandoned his men at Haven Academy, they refuse to follow him any more and try blocking his access to the throne. When they insult the effect Blake has on Adam, he furiously slaughters them all. He sits on the throne surrounded by their dead bodies, mulling over what they just said to him. When he recalls the reference to Blake controlling him, he angrily destroys the throne.
  • Revenge Films:
    • "She ruined her own wedding by revealing all sorts of stories about her past": After her husband divorced her after she told him her scandalous past and that she became infertile because of said past, a 40-year-old Taylor snapped and tried to steal a young mother's baby, only to get the cops called on her when said mother screamed for help. As a result, Taylor ended up in jail for misconduct charges after she verbally abused the police.
    • "Husband "Sorry, my wife freaked out and called the ambulance" But the truth is…": A woman was forced to babysit Mr. A's kids since his wife was pregnant and her husband wanted to be "a good friend" for him. Added to the fact she had a baby of her own, this affected her mental health to the point she called an ambulance and the cops. When Mr. A's mother found out, she empathized with the poor woman as she herself was forced to babysit her sister-in-law's kids.

    Web Original 
  • Hockey writer Sean "Down Goes Brown" McIndoe had one in an article which in his website is titled "In which I attempt to answer a simple question about jersey numbers that almost breaks me". He tries to find a season where a player scored the same number of goals as his jersey. Given the only one who pulled it wore 34, he had to go through a lot of numbers to find out, getting increasingly more frustrated with each one.
  • This happens to a book in The Wanderer's Library story Of the Metabible. The Metabible, a godlike entity over which wars have been fought, is an impossibly long book. As you read farther it begins to get more and more incomprehensible, and by the millionth page it's completely broken and begging for somebody to read it. The last page of the book separates itself from the Metabible and forms a second one. It's implied it eventually goes through the same process.
  • At the climax of Worm Taylor, already a mess of neuroses, suffers irrevocable brain damage from Panacea altering her powers and begins rapidly losing her faculties, starting with the ability to comprehend language, and eventually culminating in a complete Loss of Identity.

Alternative Title(s): Descent Into Madness



While the Cartoon Cartoons are going to work, Scrappy-Doo laments how he's never given respect for keeping the cartoon industry fresh. While people like Buck Tuddrussel and Eustace like him fine enough, others either don't respect him or don't know who he is, leading Scrappy to have a complete mental breakdown.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / DudeWheresMyRespect

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