Follow TV Tropes


Stranger in a Familiar Land

Go To

"Those first few weeks home from the war, I moved through the house like an astronaut lost in an alien landscape. Everything looked strange. Smelled strange. Even in the air. My family were bizarre creatures I didn't know how to communicate with. Was too afraid to even touch or look at them for long. This is supposed to be my home, I had to keep reminding myself. Hoping it would eventually start to feel that way".
Frank Castle, Punisher Max #12, "Frank"

Known in real life as "Reverse Culture Shock" or "Re-entry Shock".

A character returns home after a long absence and finds that they no longer fit in, either because their home has changed too much over time, because they themselves were changed by their experiences or both. In the second case, it can lead to a But Now I Must Go sentiment. In less extreme cases, the character may eventually settle down again with some effort.

Prominent real-life examples are usually based on soldiers returning home, most commonly from World War I or The Vietnam War, or prisoners who find after serving their sentences that they can't adapt to life "outside". This is also relatively common among anthropologists and related fieldworkers who come home after a long stint in another society only to realize how bizarre their own culture really is. Another common case is people who were raised in another culture who travel back to their family's homeland — despite sharing cultural ties due to their family's past, they experience Heritage Disconnect and find themselves alienated due to their foreign upbringing.

Present in Western literature as early as in Homer's The Odyssey, making it Older Than Feudalism.

Related to You Can't Go Home Again, Never Accepted in His Hometown, Going Native, and possibly So What Do We Do Now?. This experience may be part of causing the character in question to go From Camouflage to Criminal. Occasionally overlaps with Where It All Began. Contrast Home Sweet Home — although this trope may also make the character realize that his home is no longer the place where he used to live. He may find that his old bed is too soft and he now Prefers Rocks to Pillows.

Often, characters placed in this situation will choose to put themselves back In Harm's Way.

Has absolutely nothing to do with Stranger in a Strange Land, though was named for it.

WARNING: Below are unmarked spoilers aplenty!


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • In Black Lagoon, Rock returns to his home country of Japan during the Yakuza arc but found himself unable to return to his family and old life after everything he's experienced since his departure.
  • In Mobile Suit Gundam, Amuro Ray goes to visit his mother on Earth and ends up shooting the Zeon patrol searching for him. His mother is dismayed by how much the war has changed her little boy, and they part less than amicably.
  • In After War Gundam X Roabea and Witz have A Day in the Limelight that ends this way. Roabea finds his first love dead and buried, leaving him no reason to ever return to his hometown. Witz, meanwhile, finds that his widowed mother has remarried and they argue bitterly over his being a mobile suit pilot. In the end, both of them decide their real home is the Frieden, the ship they've been working for as Hired Guns.
  • This happens at the end of Season 2 of Monster Rancher, where Genki's sudden return to Earth after a good year or so in another world is portrayed to be as devastating as you would expect.
  • Ayato in RahXephon, at several points in the story.
  • Depicted in Inuyasha to some degree. Kagome has three friends from her school, and we see how she has less and less in common with them the once or twice per season she returns home; they're thinking of tests and cute boys, while her circumstances have her outgrowing normal high-school concerns. When she talks about her romantic troubles but leaves out the details, they think he's just hung up on his ex, while the truth is more like "his dead previous fiancee isn't dead, and we don't know which side she's on or what her complicated long-term game is, as if an Artifact of Doom-wielder who only gets more unkillable every week wasn't enough."
  • Serves as the main barrier between Domon and Rain's Childhood Friend Romance in Mobile Fighter G Gundam. After an entire adolescence of Training from Hell in the mountains, Domon Kasshu gets to return home and find that, well, said home was basically razed to the ground by his apparently now evil older brother. Rain is all that's left from his former life, which would be more of comfort if he had actually spent any of those ten years in the woods learning how to engage in basic conversation.
  • Part of the Deconstruction of Homura's ability to go back in time to Set Right What Once Went Wrong in Puella Magi Madoka Magica. The multiple attempts to change Madoka's fate end up changing Homura's personality from a Shrinking Violet Meganekko to a cold Shell Shocked Aloof Dark Haired Magical Girl who grows more and more distant from the other four girls with each repetition of the timeline because of what she knows and what they don't. The original vulnerable Homura is kept buried deep inside, only evident in select instances such as in Episode 11, when she tearfully laments to Madoka that while to her Homura was this mysterious transfer student whom she had only known for a few weeks, to Homura Madoka was everything because she had given up so much for her sake.
  • This is the main conflict for the Genesect Army in Pokémon: Genesect and the Legend Awakened, who were revived from 300 million-year-old fossils and no longer fit in to the modern world.
  • In Attack on Titan, Reiner Braun states that his driving motivation is to return to his hometown. When he finally does make it home, his family cannot comprehend what he has gone through. In a family that fiercely supports the regime, he is forced to toe the party line or risk being turned on by his own family. To this end, he has to parrot the government's propaganda, smile while his family grooms his cousin to follow in his footsteps for their own benefit, and pretend to hate the people he once considered his dearest friends. While he clearly doesn't fit in anymore, leaving isn't an option either because his superiors will kill him and punish his entire family.
  • Subverted in The Boy and the Beast with Kyuta after returning to Tokyo for the first time as an adult. He makes friends with Kaede to catch up on his studies and eventually reunites with his father to the point that he decides to leave Jūtengai, his other home, forever.

    Comic Books 
  • In the Comic In A Comic of Watchmen, the survivor of a pirate raid desperately attempts to return home to warn of the pirates' imminent arrival. He clearly goes insane in his certainty he will be too late, and fails to recognize his own family on return. One of the actors in The Movie compared the superheroes' situation to 'War veterans trying to fit in with society'.
    • As it turns out, it's actually an Invoked Trope here- this is how the pirates recruit new crewmen. By the time the survivor realizes how far off the deep end he's gone, he has nowhere left to turn but to the pirates.
  • Samaritan from Astro City is a particularly extreme example - he was born in a desolate future where humanity was about to die out, and was sent back in time to our era to change history. He eventually ended up in a fight with a villain who we assume had some sort of time-related powers, which got him sent back to his own time. He discovered that he'd succeeded in his mission and that the future was now one where humanity was thriving, but the changes he'd made were so extensive that he'd become a temporal anomaly — the rest of his family were never born, and what was his home had become a taco stand.
    • In a later story that tells of Samaritan's archenemy Infidel, the immortal Infidel traveled forward in time and built an empire in Samaritan's old world, only to be shocked and appalled at the ignominy when he finds that his home (which had been coincidentally built on the wreckage of Samaritan's) had also become the same taco stand.
  • The DC Comics villain Superboy-Prime spent most of his existence trying to return to his home universe where all these annoying super-beings only existed in comic books. He finally succeeded at the end of the Final Crisis Mega Crossover. But when he got home, he discovered that his family and girlfriend had been following his "adventures" in the comics - all the atrocities he had committed, the tortures, the mutilations, and the at-least-eleven-digit body count he had racked up - and considered him a monster.
  • Don Rosa's The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck: Scrooge leaves Scotland as a 13-year-old and briefly visits home when 18. In 1902, a 35-year-old Scrooge has earned a small fortune and attempts to resettle in Scotland. Having spent most of his life in the United States, South Africa, Australia, and Canada, Scrooge has problems being accepted by traditional Scottish villagers. Soon Scrooge decides to return to the United States, this time taking his two sisters with him.
  • In the "Threeboot" version of the Legion of Super-Heroes, Triplicate Girl comes from a planet populated entirely by duplicates of herself. At one point, she tried to go back, only to find that the selves that had remained on the planet were now afraid of her, because her adventures with the Legion had changed her so much that she was no longer identical to them and they now saw her as an outsider.
  • It happens to Post-Crisis Supergirl when she and Superman rescue a city full of Kryptonians which settle in a new planet. When Kara moves to New Krypton she finds she's been living in Earth for so long that Kryptonians are "alien" to her now.
    Lana Lang: So what's it like over there?
    Supergirl: On New Krypton? It's... different. Our people are happy there. The planet itself is beautiful, too, but... It's weird, but being around other Kryptonians like my mother, I'm really starting to feel... well...
    Lana: Alien?
    Supergirl: Some of them are so different from humans, Lana. They think differently, they speak differently, they... react differently. I've been on Earth so long, it's been hard for me to fall back into being "just another Kryptonian".
  • The Warlord (DC): This happens to Travis Morgan whenever he returns to Earth. These visits just reinforce Morgan's belief that the Lost World of Skartaris is where he truly belongs.
  • In the comic TRON: Ghost in the Machine (a follow up to Tron 2.0, different continuity than TRON: Legacy), Jet is so shell-shocked by his trip through the computer and the revelation that Programs are sentient beings inside the system (and that he killed dozens of those and [possibly] some digitized Users) that he refuses to touch electronics for the next six months, and Alan has to haul him to a shrink.
    • Both the non-canonical Ghost In the Machine and the Canon comic Tron: Betrayal implies this happened to Flynn (who behaved erratically and vanished in both continuities).
  • The page quote comes from Jason Aaron's Punisher MAX story arc "Frank". This details Frank Castle's experiences with this back during the period between his return from Vietnam and the death of his family. He struggled to be a normal family man again, but the whole time he desperately craved a return to war and violence in general. Parallels are drawn between this period in his past and the present, where he's in prison.
  • Captain America is depicted this way in modern incarnations (especially his Ultimate counterpart). He was frozen in a block of ice during WWII and was originally thawed out in the 1960s. As comics have continued, however, the gap in between when he was frozen and thawed out has grown larger, spanning decades and decades, making Cap feel even more out-of-place with the current world and, in Ultimate Cap's case, its sensibilities. Regardless, he's still looked up to as the pinnacle of heroism in the Marvel Universe, and an example for all to follow.
    • This also happens to Cap whenever he time-travels back to the 1940s. The casual racism and sexism of the era make him feel entirely out of place.
  • Nova: Richard Rider had difficulties returning to Earth after that Annihilation business. It didn't help that he'd returned right after Civil War, and is disturbed by the news of everything that's happened (including that his former girlfriend died right at the beginning of the event). After an attack by a supervillain, followed by the Thunderbolts when he arrests said supervillain, where he's treated as the villain just because he's there, Rich finally decides to leave, announcing "I think the world's gone insane, and I want off". So, after one disturbing conversation with a psychologically damaged Speedball, he leaves.
  • A major theme in Persepolis is that Marjane becomes an outsider in her home country of Iran after the Islamic Revolution and spent her adolescence in Austria. However, having grown up in Iran and having lived through a war, she similarly had trouble relating to her friends when in Europe. She is a westerner in Iran and an Iranian in the west.

    Fan Works 
  • Child of the Storm:
    • There's the canonical example of Steve Rogers, though rather downplayed since he's had a couple of years to adjust.
    • Harry in the sequel. The end of the first book and the start of the second, add up to about 5 months of real time (plus 6 months in the Nevernever). By the time he gets back to Hogwarts, he's been forced to grow up very fast. Consequently, he's terrifyingly powerful, has spectacularly awful PTSD, and very different priorities from his peers. This often manifests as him being impatient with both the (normal) teenage childishness of his peers and the nature of the Wizarding World, while they're somewhat creeped out by him.
      • Later, while he softens up a bit, he's very aware of how much he's been changed by his experiences, and sometimes regrets it a little (though he makes clear to Ron that he has changed and he's not going back). He admits to Clark that he finds it hard to be normal and relate to anyone not on the same strange wavelength and advises him to stay grounded. This causes a widening rift with Ron and Hermione - keeping them Locked Out of the Loop for good and bad reasons doesn't help. Nor does being both actively and passively manipulative.
  • The Desert Storm: A post-ROTS Obi-Wan Kenobi a.k.a. Ben Naasade finds himself in this situation when he travels back in time before the events of The Phantom Menace. The first time he arrives at Coruscant, he’s taken aback by how lax the planet's security is compared to the constant and tight security he was used to during the Clone Wars. Thereafter, both he and his fellow Jedi find the difference between them to be deeply jarring (particularly how alarmingly comfortable he is with lethal combat and war), with more than one expression of disturbed disbelief at how someone as sweet and earnest as Obi-Wan Kenobi could have turned into Jedi Master Ben Naasade.
  • In He Who Fights Monsters Tsukune comes home and realizes how much Yokai Academy has changed him when his mother comments on his constant tenseness and when he almost kills his old bully. He can barely even recognize himself when comparing a picture from just before entering the academy and his own reflection.
  • Near the end of Make a Wish Harry returns to England and finds out after removing his disguise as Mr. Black that he needs another disguise to hide all the changes he's gone through over his summer.
  • In Pony POV Series, Shining Armor, Minuette, and Cadence end up in a downplayed version of this trope after Makarov's demise triggers a Cosmic Retcon that erases him from history. They awaken in a new timeline where much has changed due to the Hoovet Empire having imploded on schedule and Makarov's changes to the timeline being undone, but retain their memories (due to being Immune to Fate, a Time Lord, and an Alicorn respectively). Downplayed, as they have new memories that help them adjust, but still takes some getting used to.
  • In Intercom, after spending time in her Mental World, Riley starts to feel this way about the physical world, due to how much nicer and more exciting the former is.
  • In Why Am I Crying?, Diamond Tiara moved from Ponyville to Manehattan when she was four years old; when she moved back three years later, she found that none of her old friends, including her best friend Apple Bloom, remembered who she was.
  • In The Undesirables, Sonata Dusk returns to Equestria after a thousand years absence and has trouble adjusting to Equestrian society.
  • In Origin Story, Alex spends the first half of the story trying to find a way to get back to Buffy and the gang in Sunnydale. When she finally — if involuntarily — makes it back to Sunnydale, she finds that she's three years further down the timeline in an alternate Sunnydale (for example, Buffy was dating Vi and had never heard of Angel) where all of the Scoobies are suspicious of her Kryptonian powers.
  • In How the Light Gets In Laurel is resurrected after being dead for 7 months, and finds herself surrounded by people who had to learn to live without her. It is especially jarring with her family, she was married to and had a daughter with Dean; but (at first) can only watch as he and Thea (their nanny) interact with and care for her, using the co-parenting system they were forced to form when she was dead.
    • The flip side is also explored. Her friends and family are overjoyed that she's back; but they and she are now so different from how they all were, that none of them quite know what to do. Thea at one point muses on how they felt all the grief and pain of her death, so what do they do with that now that she's back?
  • Ash Ketchum in Traveler has trouble adjusting to being back in Pallet Town when he visits for the first time in months, considering his hometown to be as foreign to him as any of the other cities he's visited. At times, this extends to civilization in general as he's become so used to spending weeks at a time in the wilderness with only his Pokemon for company.
  • In the most recent drabble of ''A Far Cry From Home''(a series of one-shot crossovers between different games in the Far Cry series), Daisy Lee reflects on the way her experiences on the Rook Islands marked her and her friends. Liza ended up having a Freak Out her first week back in California, and needed therapy: Oliver ended up becoming even more addicted to drugs than he already was, and needed to go to rehab: Keith was no longer the Hot-Blooded Jerkass he used to be ever since he got raped by Bambi "Buck" Hughes: Riley ended up becoming a lot more foul-tempered due to guilt at feeling helpless when Hoyt's privateers were holding him captive: and Daisy, after losing her friend Vincent and boyfriend Grant, ended up being nearly Driven to Suicide when she tried returning to the swimming championships. Thank goodness she then gets to do some good by patching up an injured Ajay Ghale. note 
  • Similarly, but more downplayed in Pokémon Reset Bloodlines, after Ash returns to Pallet Town, spending a few days there makes him feel the place a little cramped after traveling for so long. However, after a chat with Anabel, he realizes that even if Pallet Town stops feeling like home, he'll eventually find a place to go back to one day.
  • In Transition Jinx and Raven are teleported to an Genius Loci Pleasure Planet for six months, gain Cosmic Entity level powers, and fall in love, meanwhile on earth the teleportation had several side effects such as: causing a tsunami that damages Jump City drowning Gizmo in the process, driving several people Ax-Crazy including turning Beast Boy into a Knight Templar before Jumping Off the Slippery Slope completely, almost driving Terra to suicide before being near fatally poisoned by Beast Boy and utterly crushing the Titans morale.
  • I Will Not Bow: The sequel, Blazing Revolution, reveals the Laughing Coffin survivors to be this; PoH outright says that there's nothing left for them in the real world, and they've felt empty ever since the death game in SAO ended.
    Kirito: I stopped living in the past a long time ago. That's something you and the rest of Laughing Coffin haven't been able to do.
    PoH: That's because there's nothing left for us in the real world! What can we do?! Live our peaceful lives and bag groceries for a living?! No, the only time we were able to feel alive was in SAO!
  • To Hell and Back (Arrowverse):
    • While Oliver seems to manage his return to Starling City well enough, he is constantly and bitterly reminded of all the things he missed out on and all the things that changed during his ten year-absence, especially with his family and three closest friends. He left when his sister Thea was seven and came back to find her almost an adult, his formerly-irresponsible best friend Tommy is now a (mostly) straight-laced executive at his father's company, his other best friend Laurel had completely moved on with her life as a successful lawyer at CNRI, and her younger sister Sara didn't even reside in Starling anymore, now traveling the world as a humanitarian. While he hides it well, Oliver is clearly bothered by this, and it has affected him more than he cares to admit.
    • Barry is a downplayed example. He isn't nearly as affected by the changes with his family in Central City, as his ties amount to three people (his father and the Wests), and the only one who changed significantly was his best friend Iris. Nonetheless, he still feels a level disconnect: for example, when he enters his room in the West House for the first time in years, he can barely stand the sight of it because it looks like a child's room, as he hasn't been a child in a very long time.
  • By the time Pink Diamond in Fractures (SpaceDimentio) was able to return to Earth after six millennia, she finds that the Earth has long since been drained of all of its resources, now just a massive, lifeless hunk of rock orbiting the sun like all other former colonies.
  • In The Raven's Plan, this is the situation faced by both the non-time travelers and those who died earlier in the original timeline, when faced with how those who went through the full Trauma Conga Line that was Westeros in the War of Five Kings and Second War for the Dawn have changed. This is especially notable in the case of Ned Stark, who died right before everything went to hell, and thus finds that virtually his whole family has completely changed almost beyond belief, and know things that completely upend his worldview. This leads to a ton of frustration that culminates in a Rage Breaking Point incited by learning that Jaime Lannister is now an ally; afterward, he is emotionally worn down and needs a pep talk from Howland Reed about the situation in order to recover.
  • At the end of Surface Tension, Zelda feels uncomfortable ruling Hyrule because she's spent the last seven years as a Child Soldier wandering around in the shadows. This is why she takes so easily to running off with Ruto on something hands-on.
  • Blood Moon: Katara experiences this when she returns to the South Pole after years of imprisonment in the Fire Nation. This is in contrast to the happier reactions of the other liberated waterbender prisoners.
  • The New Retcons: Therese muses in ten years that Millborough will become unrecognizable to people that left it, having the foresight to see that it was losing more of its identity and would eventually become just a part of the Greater Scarborough area. Therese came to Elly Patterson's funeral deliberately to invoke this trope and make a clean break before emigrating to France. One of the epilogue letters reveals that Therese's prediction did indeed come true: when Elizabeth came back to attend the closing of her alma mater, it had been absorbed into Greater Scarborough and the only place she recognized was her old neighborhood.
  • In Futures Freak Me Out, Asuka does not want to go back to Germany. Her family does not care about her, she has no friends back home, she does not want to reminisce about the "good", old days when she was being trained as a child soldier, and she feels she does not fit anymore.
  • In the Discworld of A.A. Pessimal, Johanna Smith-Rhodes has been living in Ankh-Morpork for over twenty years. Every time she returns to Rimwards Howondaland she feels as if she has less and less in common with the cultural and social preconceptions of her native country. This makes her acutely aware that this happens, even more so, to students at the Assassins' School who arrive from Howondaland to be educated in Ankh-Morpork for seven years. She puts it down to Ankh-Morpork changing people.
  • Us, Withering Under The Sun: When he's hanging out with all his friends from high school, all of whom have stayed in touch while he isolated himself and left the country altogether, Woo-jin is dismayed to hear just how much he missed after he left and can contribute little to the conversation.
  • Paradoxus: Played for Laughs in the second chapter. Galadwen returns to Teldrassil after an absence of 500 hundred years; her sudden teleportation to the place causes the alarms to fire off as they are no longer tuned to identify her as a Kaldorei citizen. The Moon Priestesses and Shandris panic at what they think is a hostile intrusion; once the latter recognizes her, she's exasperated beyond measure. Galadwen merely laughs in response. It's downplayed as the night elves are long-lived creatures, so they do remember who Galadwen is and their society hasn't changed that much—Galadwen's only grip is that they are serving the (in comparison) short-lived humans instead of leading the Alliance with their experience.
    Shandris: ¡Serás idiota, Aen'da! Te desapareces por casi medio milenio, y sólo apareces para asustar. Elune, dame paciencia para soportarte.Translation 

    Films — Animated 
  • Gives The Last Unicorn a very Bittersweet Ending. The eponymous unicorn can't stay among humans, since so few are pure enough to recognize her and treat her as an intelligent being deserves, but her time as a human has allowed her to know love and hurt and joy, things normal unicorns never experience, so she'll never again fit in among the eternally unchanging, emotionless creatures that were once her own kind. Still, she thanks Schmendrick for the experience, with the claim that if she had to do it again she would. Also in the original novel.
    "I will try to go home."
  • Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted: Alex, Marty, Gloria, and Melman finally complete The Homeward Journey. Unfortunately, their adventures throughout the series made them unfit at the Central Park Zoo. To make things worse, they're apprehended and trapped there with increased security measures, and the animal control officer who captured them still wants them dead. Fortunately, their friends come to their rescue, and in the end Alex and the gang decide they belong in a touring circus.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • About Schmidt revolves around Warren Schmidt unable to cope with familiar surroundings or his family after he retires and especially after his wife dies.
  • The Best Years of Our Lives has this as its central theme, examining the lives of three soldiers after they come home and struggle to readjust after what they saw of the horrors of World War II.
  • Cast Away: Chuck Noland comes home after years being stranded on an island to find that his friends had him declared dead and actually had a funeral, and his fiancee married another man.
  • Hamburger Hill: Sgt. Worchester monologues about how his experience with anti-war activists became his motivation to do another tour in 'Nam.
  • In Apocalypse Now, Willard is in a very similar state and mentions how he couldn't adjust to life at home. Worse still, he's clearly not satisfied with living in the Vietnam War, becoming even more of a stranger to it by the end.
  • A strange case in The Shawshank Redemption finds elderly parolee Brooks unable to fit in outside the walls of the prison in which he's spent the better part of his life. Spotlighted when he writes to his friends on the inside, commenting on how he saw a single automobile when he was a boy... and now they're all over the place. After trying and failing to acclimate to the outside world, Brooks decides not to stay.
  • In Sniper, Thomas Beckett tells Richard Miller that he's going to retire from the Marine Corps and return home, then details all the things he's going to do once he gets there only to find out from Miller that most of the places he talks about don't exist anymore.
  • The Hurt Locker. When Will James' tour in Iraq is finished, he's obviously out of place in his civilian life. The guy even has a hard time grocery shopping. The movie ends with him going back to war, walking downrange in the bomb suit with a satisfied look on his face.
  • In The Color Purple (1985) after a character returns from prison after so many years, she weeps after commenting that she doesn't know any of her friends or family anymore.
  • In the French film I Have Loved You So Long, a woman is let out of prison after serving 15 years for murder of her suffering terminally ill child. When she is released, her father is dead, her mother is senile, her friends have cut off all ties to her, and her baby sister has almost no memories of her whatsoever. Despite this, the woman's sister takes her into her home and tries to become a normal family again.
  • In Get Carter, Jack Carter returns to his home town of Newcastle to investigate the murder of his brother. Since he left, he's become a big-shot London Gangster, so his relationship with the town is quite different.
  • In the German film Stalingrad (1993), one Landser relates how he came back for R&R and just felt like he couldn't live a life away from the front anymore. He tells his comrades that he just asked that his wife be told he fell in combat so he would not have to visit her at home and she wouldn't have to worry about him anymore.
  • In My Fair Lady, after she's finally fed up with Professor Henry Higgins, Eliza returns to the old neighborhood after her blossoming into a lady, but no one recognizes her.
  • Gangland Odyssey is a Hong Kong film where a the main character is a triad hitman who leaves Hong Kong to join the Yakuza in Japan in the 1970s. After a 15-year Time Skip, he returns to Hong Kong, complete with a entirely new Japanese name, and realize how alien he feels in his once-familiar home.
  • In Tough Guys, Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas play convicted train robbers Harry Doyle and Archie Long who are released after serving 30 years in prison and they're shocked by how much the world has changed while they were in prison.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King has the hobbits return to the Shire and share a drink at their local watering hole, looking completely alienated and distanced from the other hobbits. Sam more-or-less acclimatizes and ends up happily married with kids, but Frodo, in particular, is never quite the same.
  • In Cinema Paradiso, when Toto returns home from his conscripted service in the army, he has found that his home town is very different. Alfredo advises him to leave forever and he does, until Alfredo dies.
  • In The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg, Prince Karl Heinrich goes back to his old college after becoming King and finds out that nothing is the same anymore. The students no longer come to the beer hall where he used to hang out and have fun, and his old frat buddies now behave towards him in a stiffly correct manner, now that he's king.
  • In American History X, Derek Vinyard gets this feeling after returning home from prison. He is a changed person who no longer fits in with his former skinhead gang and their racist ideology.
  • At first this seems to be part of the Central Theme of The World's End: five friends return to the town where they grew up after being estranged from it for many years, and find it uncomfortable and hostile. They assume this trope is at hand until by accident they find that, in fact, most of the townsfolk have been replaced by alien robots.
  • One of the themes of 1947 film Crossfire. Samuels commiserates with Mitchell about how hard it is to go back to ordinary civilian life after having spent years fighting in the war. Mitchell himself is feeling alienated from his old career as an artist and is very nervous about seeing his wife again.
  • Local Hero: After spending several weeks in a small, charming Scottish town, the main character comes back to his Sleek High Rise Apartment and looks uncomfortable.
  • Steve Rogers in The Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Like his comic counterpart, he wakes up in the 2010s after being frozen since WWII, and The Avengers shows him struggling to keep up with pop culture references, the changed values, and the overall strangeness of the world. While The Winter Soldier shows that Steve has started adjusting to the modern-day, we're reminded that Steve is a soldier and a combat veteran who was forcibly thrust into (relative) peacetime, and he's dealing with the plight of many returned servicemen. Eventually in Avengers: Endgame he chooses to use time travel to return to the past and live out the rest of his life with Peggy.
  • Krall, the villain of Star Trek Beyond, is revealed to be a seasoned soldier and wartime leader who had trouble adapting when his culture transitioned from violent barbarism to peacetime and eventually came to resent his own people. Krall is a human. He was a MACO who fought in the Xindi and Romulan wars; when the Federation was formed and the MACO's were dissolved in favor of the exploratory, non-military Starfleet, he became a starship captain.
  • Trading Places: After Billy Ray is given his new job and living quarters by the Duke brothers, he decides to celebrate his new success by throwing a party with his associates from the inner city. However, Billy Ray becomes disillusioned with the group as he sees them disrespecting his property and decides to cut ties with them after he kicks them all out.

  • Part of Riki's Character Development in Ai no Kusabi after he had been absent from the slums for 3 years.
  • K.A. Applegate's Animorphs
    • Rachel in #48 The Return. She has an internal monologue about how she feels isolated and apart even in a crowded school hallway.
    • Jake, who can't relate to anyone after the war because they don't know what he's been through.
    • Also, Tobias, as he's now a hawk, and since Rachel is dead, he has no more connection to humanity.
    • And Ax. The things he's learned on Earth - the willingness to justify your actions to your subordinates, the acceptance of vecols as members of society - cause him to be seen as strange to other Andalites. Although, by this time, he's enough of a legendary war hero to get away with it.
    • Marco in the final book. When Jake comes to him to recruit him for a new mission, Marco's wealth and fame suddenly feels like a daydream to him.
  • Elijah Baley at the end of Isaac Asimov's second Robot novel, The Naked Sun. Partially undermined at the beginning of the third novel, as Baley realizes he's not as foreign to the Cities as he had first believed.
    • He'd spent his entire life there, but his son (and many of the next generation of Earthers) will be.
  • Bill Bryson's I'm A Stranger Here Myself (called Notes from a Big Country outside the U.S.) describes his experiences living in America after 25 years in the U.K. It includes such anecdotes as walking into a hardware store looking for Spackle, and realizing that he had never been a homeowner in his native country before and didn't know what the stuff he needed was called:
    "Hi, I'm looking for the stuff you use to fill dents in walls. My wife's people call it Polyfilla."
  • Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga:
    • In Shards of Honor, Cordelia Naismith of Beta Colony gets hit with this trope, which directly results in her becoming Cordelia Vorkosigan of Barrayar. It probably would have been less awful if she hadn't been Mistaken For Brainwashed at the same time.
    • To some extent, Kareen Koudelka returning to Barrayar in A Civil Campaign after her year on Beta Colony.
  • In David Eddings' Castle of Wizardry, the fourth book of The Belgariad, the group visits the home farm of The Hero, and he realizes that he's changed so much that he can't really expect to return there after their quest is completed. Invoked by his aunt to help him let go of his childhood and prepare him for his Rightful King Returns destiny.
  • This happens a lot in the works of William Faulkner, but it's most prevalent in Flags in the Dust, where Bayard has to deal with coming home from WWI when his twin brother...didn't.
  • Neil Gaiman's novels Neverwhere and Stardust. In the latter, the protagonist has changed to such a degree that several townspeople can't recognize him, and they treat him with great suspicion.
    • Also referenced in the Gaiman poem "Instructions", "When you reach the little house, the place your journey started, you will recognize it, although it will seem much smaller than you remember."
  • Griboyedov's Woe From Wit is all about it.
  • In Joe Haldeman's novel The Forever War, the main character, a soldier in the war, repeatedly deals with culture shock because, thanks to Time Dilation, time passes more quickly on Earth than it does for him. During the novel, the main character experiences four years, but centuries pass on Earth. Word of God says that the novel was inspired by the author's experience of fighting in The Vietnam War and then returning home.
    • Played to devastating effect with Mandella and Potter's return to Earth after their first tour of duty, during which thirty years have passed on Earth. Mandella's father is dead; his mother is dying of cancer which The Government's socialized medicine system refuses to treat because she is not worth it, and she has taken a lesbian lover. Potter's parents are forced out of their home for defying government regulations, and end up on an agricultural commune under assumed identities. They are killed by raiders looking for food while Mandella and Potter are staying with them. Needless to say, the two re-enlist in the Army and get off the planet.
  • At the end of Simon Hawke's first Time Wars novel, The Ivanhoe Gambit, Lucas is discharged from the Temporal Corps as a reward for his actions. He finds he doesn't fit into 27th Century civilian life anymore, and re-enlists at the start of the second book, The Timekeeper Conspiracy.
  • Robert A. Heinlein uses this trope in some of his juvenile Science Fiction, when the protagonist has learned and grown from his (it's almost always a male) experiences, but the people back home have not.
    • Glory Road: A non-juvenile example. The protagonist eventually returns to his homeworld after his adventures, finds life too tame (in one example, Eternal Sexual Freedom is averted), and in effect signs up for another hitch.
    • Space Cadet (Heinlein): The protagonist, on returning from the Patrol's Boarding School on leave, has it brought home forcefully to him that his family is deeply ignorant of the realities of space travel and the Patrol, and that they don't want to change any of their ideas.
    • Tunnel in the Sky: The protagonist's parents became Human Popsicles not long after he left for his final exam in Survival (a prerequisite for all of the professions connected with space exploration and colonization), because his father had an illness that just outside the current medical state-of-the-art's ability to cure. When he finally comes home some years later (the exam went bad in a big way), his parents can't quite wrap their heads around the fact that he's legal of age. (He was just shy of it when he took the exam, for which he had to get his legal guardian's permission. Fortunately, his parents had already made his big sister his guardian in preparation for their entry into cryogenic stasis, and she was in favor, so signed permission.)
  • Homer's The Odyssey. In this case, a spell was actually placed on the land so that Odysseus wouldn't recognize his homeland until he asked someone where he was.
  • In Diana Wynne Jones's novel The Homeward Bounders, Jamie jumps to modern-day Earth after having walked the bounds for some years...and discovers that it's actually his own homeworld, just a hundred years on, and the boy he's made friends with is actually his own great-nephew. Heck, Him deciding that modern day London wasn't Home anymore was a major plot point.
  • Andre Norton examples, often involving a Rip Van Winkle situation:
    • The short story "The Long Night of Waiting": Two nineteenth-century kids were accidentally swept into Another Dimension through a Cool Gate. They returned to find that roughly ten years had passed for every day they spent on the other side, and it was now the late twentieth century. They went back through the Cool Gate, since it was closer to the life they were used to and they now had some friends there.
    • Android at Arms: Several important persons from various species and cultures awaken on a Prison Planet and learn that they have been kidnapped, and apparently kept as Human Popsicles and replaced with Ridiculously Human Robots. It is established right away, from the most recent dates each can remember, that for some of them many years have passed, and all of them were abducted in the midst of time-critical situations. The protagonist (one of the more recent abductees) returns home to find that years have passed and that his double is now in charge.
    • Dread Companion: A governess and her charges go through a Cool Gate and return to a Rip Van Winkle situation.
    • Judgement on Janus: After recovering from the Green Sick, Ashla attempts to contact her beloved younger sister, but learns that the physiological and psychological changes wrought by the illness are such that her sister no longer recognizes her, and that she cannot see her old home as home anymore.
  • For that matter, Rip Van Winkle himself in the Washington Irving story of the same name.
  • A recurring theme in the works of K.J. Parker. Parker loves to deconstruct the "local boy comes home and makes good" cliche.
  • In The Lord of the Rings ending, this happens to all of the hobbits in varying degrees. Frodo has the most problems with the "happily ever after" part, although Pippin and Merry also have trouble with staying in the Shire for long, and in the end, they spend their last years with Aragorn in Minas Tirith. Sam is the only one who seems to fully fit in again, but after his wife dies, he follows in Frodo's footsteps and sails away to the Undying Lands in the True West. Some fans believe Frodo had PTSD. Tolkien was a veteran of World War I, so it's very likely that there was some intentional Reality Subtext at play.
  • For that matter, The Hobbit hints at the same problem for Bilbo, and the opening of The Lord of the Rings even more so. His experiences with the Dwarves and Smaug ensured he never quite fit in with the hobbits again, and when he abandoned the Ring, he left the Shire for good, living the rest of his life with the Elves. First in Rivendell, later in the Undying Lands. Although the effects of the aforementioned Ring certainly didn't help.
  • The Sebastion Barry World War I era novel A Long Long Way uses both the changed protagonist and changed home themes. The hero is an Irish soldier on the Western Front who returns on leave to find Ireland utterly altered by revolution.
  • Timothy Zahn's The Cobra Trilogy deals with a group of cybernetically-augmented soldiers who meet with trouble when the war is won and they try to go home (partly because the changes include unalterable reflex actions); the first installment was a story ironically entitled "When Jonny Comes Marching Home."
  • In All Quiet on the Western Front, written by World War I survivor Erich Maria Remarque (see the pattern here?), the main character Paul Baeumer visits his home to find that he actually longs for the front. In a letter to his mother, he writes that it "now feels like I am really returning home".
  • In The Demonata by Darren Shan, the second book ends with Kernel returning home...however, due to time running differently in the the Demonata's universe, his parents had accepted his and his magically-transformed not-in-any-way-a brother's deaths years ago, and in the end he leaves again.
  • The Saga of Darren Shan
    • Allies of the Night: Darren returns to a city he met his first girlfriend in, but doesn't fit in (though it's implied that 1. the city isn't in the same country that Darren is from, due to the accents school students use 2. when he's going back to school, as a fifteen-year-old, when the last time he was in school was the age of twelve, i.e. fifteen years ago, he ends up looking like an idiot. Plus, being a vampire prince who has spent almost a decade doing vampire-y things probably hasn't helped him fit in to humanity well.)
    • Lord of the Shadows: Darren goes to his own hometown and sees his sister and other people, and decides it's better to not get involved in the lives of his former family and friends. Still, that doesn't stop the villains...
  • Discworld:
    • Teppic in Pyramids, who finds it difficult getting used to the ways of Djelibeybi after being educated in Ankh-Morpork (which is especially troublesome for him because he’s the ruler of Djelibeybi), and at one point refers to Ankh as "where I come from". In fact, he's the Trope Namer:
      Teppic stared at him and thought "I am a stranger in a familiar land."
    • Comes up a number of times in the books. The oft-quoted reply is "you can't cross the same river twice", but unfortunately runs into the Disc's Literal-Minded tendencies.
      Ridcully: Why not? This is a bridge.
    Another involves experiments with long-legged wizards and small rivers.
    • An early book mentions that wizards often relish the chance to go home again... and meet every bully who wronged them, and get some magical payback.
  • Brian from the Hatchet series, after being forced to survive in the woods decides the woods are better when he goes home.
  • The Count of Monte Cristo: Edmond Dantes spent nearly fifteen years locked away on a prison island. Even though the point of his ruse as The Count was that none of his targets would know who he was till their end, even Mercedes has trouble recognizing him at first glance. It doesn't take her long to see through it, but nobody else does.
  • Oz series: Ironically, Dorothy Gale fell to this trope. The longer she stayed in Oz, the harder it was to go back to Kansas. Eventually, instead of having to choose between Em and Henry in Kansas and the wonders of Oz, she brought Em and Henry to Oz, where Ozma set them up with a little patch of farmland in Munchkin Country.
  • Moonraker. James Bond experiences this while in the posh gentleman's club Blades, imagining that his work as a Professional Killer has somehow made him 'un-English' and that the other club members can perceive this.
  • Happens to Graystripe twice in the Warrior Cats series - once when he comes back to ThunderClan after having left to raise his kits in RiverClan (where their mother had lived), and once when he is captured by Twolegs and is thought to be dead for over a year. Both times, though, it eventually fades away.
    • Also happens to Hollyleaf, when she returns after a year of having been thought of as dead, and then is instantly revealed to her Clanmates as a murderer (though her family covers for her, claiming Ashfur attacked her.)
  • Happens three times in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. At the end of The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Arthur arrives home on Earth a few million years in the past and remains stranded in a cave for several years. In So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, he arrives again to find the present-day Earth exactly as it was before the Vogons destroyed it, save for the absence of any dolphins, and then again in Mostly Harmless, he travels to the sector where the Earth was only to find a Crapsack World by the name of Now What, with identical continents and extremely violent wildlife.
  • In John Hemry's The Lost Fleet novel Invicible, Duellos talks with Geary about how he got this when on leave. Geary, having been asleep for the last 100 years, dwells on the subject several times while trying to get the fleet home, knowing full well he just won't fit in even on his home planet anymore.
  • Watership Down. In the In-Universe folktale El-ahrairah and the Black Rabbit of Inle, El-ahrairah returns from his adventure To Hell and Back to find that full generations of rabbits have come and gone since he left, and no one is left in his warren who remembers him or appreciates what his generation has done. There's a clear soldier-returning-from-the-war symbolism here as well.
  • At least two occasions in the Star Wars Expanded Universe deal with Luke Skywalker going back to Tatooine and seeing his old friends. He can't go home and his closest friends, Biggs Darklighter and Janek Sunber, have left and died, but he has some others. However, he was always kind of strange, by their standards, and none of them ever want to get out into the galaxy - returning, he has even less in common with them than before.
    • In Rebel Force he has to confront the fact that they just aren't inclined to believe any of his stories - the 'Wormie' kid they always derided for being an unrealistically big dreamer doesn't impress them. Leia has to bully and berate them into helping him, and he sees that they're more willing to think of her as someone amazing than they are to think of him. By then it's really sunk in that they will never really like him, and he thinks she's amazing too, so he's content to sit back.
    • During Star Wars (Marvel 1977), while he's there one of his old friends sells him out and tells him out of guilt before he can be ambushed, then defensively says that he doesn't know what it's like, trying to make it on Tatooine.
  • Happens at the end of De Gouden Dolk (The Golden Dagger), an adventure novel by Thea Beckman. After spending years of fighting in the second crusade, protagonist Jiri Rambor finds life in his old village boring and uneventful after his return.
  • In Lovecraft's story The Lurking Fear we learn about a man named Jan Martense, who after 6 years in the army and exploring the world did no longer fits in with his isolated and xenophobic family.
  • Reggie goes through this when he returns to the family manor in Phoenix and Ashes after being in the front lines of World War I.
  • In Harry Turtledove's Homeward Bound, this happens to the Yeagers (Sam, Jonathan, and Karen) after the FTL-capable Commodore Perry brings them back to Earth 30 years after they depart on the Sleeper Starship Admiral Peary for Home. This is also the case for members of the Race who have spent any lengthy period on Earth, as the lizards are not used to change (their empire having remained largely unchanged for the past 50,000 years).
    • It's mentioned that members of the Race have a support group of sorts for those who have traveled the stars.
  • Margaret Hale from North and South, on returning to her hometown after an absence of three years.
  • This happens in the Strugatsky Brothers' Noon Universe with astronauts leaving on relativistic trips to other stars. One returning astronaut hooks up with a girl after coming back, who finds it weird that people used to cook for themselves instead of going out to eat every day. Nobody has a kitchen in their home anymore, apparently, although the astronaut orders an automated kitchen only to accidentally get his neighbor's washer/dryer.
  • In Mikhail Akhmanov and Christopher Nicholas Gilmore's Captain French, or the Quest for Paradise, the titular character's backstory involves feeling this way after his historic relativistic flight to Alpha Centauri back in the 21st century (the events of the novel take place 20,000 years later). The original mission plan was to survey the system and return to Earth with a detailed report. Instead, French chooses to send a brief report via radio and continue to other star systems before finally returning home. However, his ex-wife and daughter are long-dead by that point (they would've been alive if he'd returned as planned), and everyone treats him as a hero. The success of the new drive system results in government-operated space programs shutting down and private enterprises taking over. French ends up a hero without a job or any family or friends he recognizes. He finally decides that enough is enough when his ship is about to be sold at an auction. He absconds with the ship and sets a course for the first extrasolar colony, pioneering space trade.
  • In The Satanic Verses Saladin Chamcha experiences this on a brief visit to his home in Mumbai, having spent most of his life in England.
  • Irene Kampennote  got a taste of this and wrote about it in Due To Lack of Interest Tomorrow Has Been Cancellednote . Her Author Avatar left college in 1943, and returned to complete her degree in 1969. Her old dorm is now the Ayn Rand Co-Educational and Residential Eating Co-operative House, her old church is now a fish-shaped monstrosity on the far side of town with screeching liturgical music by a folk rock band called the Risen Dead, and people greet each other with "Good love everywhere". She adapts, after a fashion, and even writes a bit of graffiti ("Gaudeamus Igitur") on the construction fence before leaving.
  • Deconstructed in East of Eden. Seeing Lee's struggles in trying to fit in, Sam Hamilton suggests perhaps he might go " back" to China. Lee reminds him that he was born in Grass Valley, CA, grew up in California, and went to the University of California, and he DID try going to China, only to find that he fits in less there than he did in the States because things changed so much since his father's time.
  • In Uprooted, the wizard-lord known as the Dragon picks one girl from the surrounding villages to be his companion for ten years, after which they are free to go. They come back in fine clothes with fine manners and a generous dowry (enough to overcome the assumption that they must be Defiled Forever). But they never stay for more than a month. Part of it is from the ten years in isolation, but they've also forgotten how to live near the malevolent Wood without being afraid of it. This is because the magical effects of drinking from the Spindle river's watershed have faded.
  • Jo Walton has a short story, "Relentlessly Mundane". Three college kids spent a year fighting evil in a magical world. That was fifteen years ago, and they're still existing in a painful So What Do We Do Now? situation, alienated and heartbroken with its loss.
  • Barbara Newhall Follett's novel Lost Island ends this way, with Jane's unwanted rescue. Follett wrote two endings, both terribly depressing, but in both Jane is determined that she will "stage another rebellion" in the future.
    She was conscious that a few floating ragged streamers of a rainbow still clung about her. She must carefully strip them off now, and put them into the trash-basket. In a few minutes, it would be time to sally out to work. And you couldn’t go to a respectable job in a bookstore with rainbow rags drifting about your shoulders, or star-dust in your hair . . .
  • Tom Hauptmann gets a huge dose of this after time-traveling via The Slow Path in Callahan's Crosstime Saloon. He was imprisoned for a decade in a South American dictatorship. When he gets home, he has to deal with all of the accumulated cultural upheavals of the 60s at once — and it's an added challenge for him as he started out as a priest.
  • One of the characters in Debt of Honor is Chester "Chet" Nomuri, a fourth-generation Japanese American serving as a CIA field officer in Japan. His narration comments several times on how different his ancestral homeland is from his place of birth.
  • This is the premise of the novel Back Home: an English girl who was evacuated and sent to America during World War II returns to England after five years and experiences culture shock.
  • Eragon from The Inheritance Cycle decided that, after all the adventure and glories he'd enjoyed as a dragonrider, he can no longer settle back as a farmer in Carvahall. In fact, he decided to leave the continent altogether to train a new generation of riders.
  • Every Heart a Doorway: A story about children who go other, fantastical, worlds and adapt, and then they face this trope if they return:
    An Underworld ... [t]hat ... was accessed by walking through a special mirror, under the full moon. The girl we lost to that world was home for the holidays when the door opened for her a second time. Her mother broke the glass after she went through. We learned later that the mother had also been there—it was a generational portal—and had wanted to spare her daughter the pain of returning.
  • In The Cinder Spires first book The Aeronaut's Windlass while it doesn't occur in the book, the topic is discussed by two surviving members of the Albion team. Grimm tells Gwen that her actions, the guilt she feels in killing an enemy soldier, the horrors of seeing a Silkweaver mother attack and kill people, watching ship-to-ship combat so close, are things that her parents, friends, and others in the Spire can understand but lack the empathetic knowledge of having experienced it directly. If she needs to speak with a person, then others in the team, like Creedy, Benny, Bridgette, or himself, will be there to listen. That she feels horrible and doesn't wish to tell others to make them experience things second-hand is proof of her humanity.
  • In Mansfield Park, Fanny Price is a daughter of a poor naval lieutenant and his wife (who is from a genteel family). Nine-year-old Fanny is sent to live with her wealthy relatives. When she is eighteen, she visits her family in Portsmouth. (Sir Thomas sends her back there so that she can appreciate the benefits of what everybody but Fanny thinks is a good match with a rich gentleman who offers her a comfortable home.) She's shocked at both the condition of their home and the utter lack of manners, finding that her mother engages in routine Parental Favoritism and can't manage her children or her one servant girl, and her father cares only for Navy news and his drinking. Fanny comes to consider Mansfield her home.
  • I Am Mordred: Mordred returns to where he was raised, but finds much has changed and his foster father views him as a strange lord.
  • Happens to Margot in To All the Boys I've Loved Before after having spending years studying in Scotland. While her relationship with her family is still good, they are not as close as before and she reacts badly when her father starts dating a woman behind her back. Lara Jean describes Margot as being left out from many important things that happened over the course of the series and she wonders if she herself will suffer the same thing when she too leaves for college.
  • In Stanisław Lem's Return from the Stars, the protagonist and his pal return to Earth after an exploratory mission with a century-long relativistic gap, to a society which had long removed its violent impulses, and which sees them as borderline savage and a little bit scary. It plays out very much as Outdated Hero vs. Improved Society, since these same violent impulses are implied to be a main driving factor in heroic exploration of the kind they engaged in.
  • The Hands of the Emperor: This is how Cliopher felt when he came home the Vangaye-Ve after the Fall. The whole world had changed, continents had fallen into the sea, the empire had been broken apart, time and magic had become askew and he had spent years, if not decades, traveling home on his own. When he arrives, only some years have passed there and everything is as it has always been. But after all the catastrophes he witnessed and having spent at least months entirely alone at sea, he feels like a stranger to his family and soon again leaves.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 30 Rock plays this for laughs when Tracy tries to make his act more current by going out among the people to try and reconnect with his roots.
    Tracy: (in the middle of New York City) Does anybody want to be my friend?
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Theon's fellow ironborn reject him for living on the mainland for ten years. He goes to great lengths to prove himself to them, but it only eats away at his sanity and ruins his life.
    • Upon his return to King's Landing, Jaime immediately feels out of place after everything he's been through. On top of that, while his return would have been huge news, no one even recognizes him due to how different he looks. Cersei almost immediately notices his less cocky, more contemplative demeanor (along with his missing hand).
  • Teal'c in Stargate SG-1, at times when he briefly returns to Chulak.
  • On Boardwalk Empire, Jimmy Darmody and Richard Harrow both return from the First World War and have trouble fitting in to peacetime life, both ending up in the bootlegging trade.
  • Sam Tyler in Life On Mars, who finds himself unable to readjust to life in the present, after waking up from his coma, to the point that he doesn't notice any pain when he cuts his hand open, and ends up committing suicide to return to the life he had in 1973.
  • Richard Mayhew in Neverwhere, when he realizes that his old job and fiance don't have any meaning to him anymore, returning below.
  • The castaways of Gilligan's Island were returned to civilization in the 1978 reunion movie Rescue from Gilligan's Island. The Skipper, unable to get an insurance settlement unless the passengers of the "Minnow" attest that the shipwreck was not his fault, travels with Gilligan to visit everyone. They find that returning to normal life has not been easy for their friends. Ginger is upset that raunchy movies have replaced the glamorous ones from her time, the Professor's inventions have been created in his absence (and he's being pressured to spend all his time raising funds for the university instead of actual scientific work), the Howells have moved beyond their wealthy society friends and Mary Ann has outgrown her fiance.
  • It's a recurring theme in Doctor Who that you can't just go back to normal life like nothing had happened. However, this leaves the ex-companions as quite a badass force in protecting the Earth when the Daleks return.
    • Rose Tyler after the Doctor tricks her into going home to save her from certain death. Also his former companion Sarah-Jane Smith, who complains about how hard it was just waking up every day and knowing she'd never see the grandeur of space again.
    • It is even more prominent with Donna. It only took one adventure with the Doctor, maybe for about an hour, for her to get hooked. While she declines to become his companion, she soon regrets it and goes looking for him to see if the offer still stands.
  • Star Trek:
    • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
      • Odo spends years trying to find the race from whom he was parted as an infant, and then when he finally does find them, they're the enemy of everything he holds dear.
      • After being an exile for the entire series, the series finale has Garak finally able to stand on Cardassia without fear of being arrested or killed. Only now that the Dominion has bombed the crap out of the planet and its government is in shambles, Cardassia is no longer the Cardassia he left, and when it does get back on its feet it will be a completely new Cardassia. Garak hates the irony of it.
    • In Star Trek: The Next Generation, Worf finds that his humorless dedication to honor and duty has little to do with how Klingons in the Empire conduct themselves.
      Worf: Klingons do not laugh.
      Guinan: Oh, yes they do! Absolutely they do! You don't, but I've heard Klingon belly laughs that'd curl your hair!
    • Star Trek: Enterprise. The episode "Home" is a Breather Episode showing what happens after Enterprise returns from saving Earth in the previous season. Captain Archer and Subcommander T'Pol in particular find it difficult to adapt to the expected norms. Earth too has changed, with increased hostility towards aliens that becomes a plot point later in the series.
  • Happens more than a few times in The Twilight Zone (1959):
    • In one episode, a man takes his bride-to-be back to his hometown, which is slightly different than he remembered it. No one recognizes him. Someone else is living in the family home. He finds out he's a robot.
    • In another episode, a man wakes up after a night of drinking. When the woman next to him wakes up, she has no idea who he is, although he insists he's her husband. He spends the rest of the episode trying to prove who he is. In the end, he finds that he exists again, only his wife looks completely different.
    • In "The Trouble with Templeton", Booth Templeton is sent back to 1927 and meets his beloved wife Laura and his best friend Barney Flueger, both long dead, in a speakeasy. They soon shun and insult him. Laura even slaps him and says, "Go back where you came from! We don't want you here!" As Laura had a script entitled What to Do When Booth Comes Back, Booth realizes that it was merely a performance to shake him out of his obsession with the past and convince him to live his own life.
  • When Adrian Monk gets re-instated with the SFPD he finds that just about nothing is familiar.
  • John in Farscape when they finally get back to Earth in season 4. It's a combination of the world changing (his father points out 9/11 as a reason why countries can't cooperate the way John wants) and John being a completely different person due to his travels. This is partly why he leaves with Moya again, the other part being that Earth is in danger if he's there (and even when he's not, it turns out).
  • Lucius Vorenus in Rome returns to his home and his family after being away for 7 years on military service. He found it difficult to re-adjust to civilian life while kept getting in conflict with his wife. Things got better for him, though not for long.
  • Once Upon a Time: Most of the characters either had fake lives in Storybrooke or were frozen but conscious in the Enchanted Forest. Aurora was in her Deep Sleep for the entire length of the curse, so she has no idea how to handle the new, curse-ravaged forest, and she doesn't have the extra twenty-eight years of experience like her (fellow fairytale) companions.
  • The pilot of Defiance starts with a boy looking up as the Votan ships are descending to Earth. Fast-forward 33 years to an After the End partially-terraformed Earth with humans and the Votan races attempting to coexist. The protagonist, Nolan, arrives to a town called Defiance built atop the ruins of St. Louis (the Arch is still there). The ending of the pilot reveals that Nolan was the boy, and he was born and raised in St. Louis.
  • Towards the end of the second season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Skye's father takes her to his home town of Milwaukee. He talks about all the things he had planned to do with her had circumstances allowed him to raise her there as he had originally planned before they were separated while she was in infancy. Then it comes out that the last time he had spent more than a few days at a stretch in his home town was before he met Skye's mother (and Skye is twenty-six). The first disconnect was when he realized that his favorite bakery was now a currency exchange.
  • Strangely averted in Iron Fist (2017). American Danny Rand is caught in a plane crash in the Himalayas at age ten and spends the next fifteen years living in an extra-dimensional monastery. When he returns to New York he seems to have no issues re-adapting, even able to deal with situations that he would have previously been too young for (such as driving) or with high-level technology that would not have existed at the time (such as smartphones). Well... mostly. It's implied that he has some quite serious PTSD mixed with Survivor's Guilt.
  • Fred on Angel suffers an extreme form of this upon her return from Pylea.
  • On The Americans this is responsible for a lot of the disconnect between Philip and Elizabeth, Soviet spies living in America. Philip recognizes that the decades he spent in America not only changed him but also changed his home country. If he ever goes back, he will not fit in and might not like the country the Soviet Union has become. Elizabeth is more of a zealot and refuses to consider this, holding on to an idealized vision of the Soviet Union that never really existed. As the show's timeline approaches Soviet collapse, this conflict escalates with Philip giving up on the spy game and fully settling into his American life while Elizabeth becomes more fanatical in her views.
  • The Barrier: Hugo, while driving his wealthy employer in parts of Madrid that the latter hasn't seen in years, asks him if he finds the city changed. His employer admits that he's unsure whether the entity that has changed over the years is himself or the city.

  • The Pretenders song "My City Was Gone" is basically this trope. Chrissie Hynde, an Akron, Ohio native, contemplates in the song of the destruction of the old city centre of Akron and reduction of the South Howard into parking lots. It happened in the late 1960s and 1970s when she was living in London, UK.
  • The theme of "The Way Life's Meant To Be" by the Electric Light Orchestra, from their album Time. Done with the assistance of Time Travel.
  • Sonata Arctica's "Replica" has a Shell-Shocked Veteran returning home from the war and not being able to live his own life anymore.
  • The Charlie Daniels Band song "Still in Saigon" tells of a Shell-Shocked Veteran who has returned home from Vietnam, and has flashbacks to his Vietnam service triggered by otherwise ordinary events. This song was written back in 1982, when PTSD was still rather misunderstood, and was called "Vietnam Syndrome" after the experiences of veterans returning home from the war over there.
  • The Atlanta Rhythm Section's "Homesick" is about the "native son of a foreign land" who's "lost in yesterday".
  • Paul Williams knows that this is what he would be in "Where Do I Go From Here":
    ''If I knew the way I'd go back home
    But the countryside has changed so much I'd surely end up lost
    Half remembering names and faces
    So far in the past
    On the other side of bridges that were burned once they were crossed''
  • In "The House That Built Me" by Miranda Lambert has the narrator has come back to her childhood home in order to find herself, but the home itself is now owned by someone else. She asks the woman living there if she can come inside and relive some memories.
  • Comes up in a lot of songs by Bruce Springsteen, particularly "Long Walk Home".
  • Keane's "The Boys" (ironically on the album titled Strangeland) nearly states it word for word:
    "We did some things we didn't understand
    And now we feel like strangers in our own land"
  • The Pogues' song Sally MacLennane tells of a man named Jimmy who moves away from his home town, is given a fond send-off by his friends, and has career success elsewhere. After several years Jimmy returns to his home town to find all his friends have moved away except the barman narrator. Jimmy drinks himself to death that night.
  • Queen's song 39 tells the story of space travelers who are sent out from Earth to find a new planet for the people of Earth to live on after Earth becomes uninhabitable. They travel faster than the speed of light, and are successful in finding an alternate Earth. But when they return home, it's to an Earth that is many years in the future, and is thus almost unrecognizable.
    For the earth is old and grey
    Little darling went away
    But my love, this cannot be!
    Oh so many years are gone
    Though I'm older but a year
    Your mother's eyes from your eyes cry to me note 
  • Social Distortion 's "Story Of My Life":
    And I went down to my old neighborhood
    The faces have all changed, there's no one left to talk to
    And the pool hall I loved as a kid
    Is now a Seven Eleven
  • Alluded to in the Al Stewart song "On the Border":
    In the village where I grew up
    Nothing seems the same
    Still you never see the change from day to day
    And no-one notices the customs slip away

    Other Sites 
  • SCP Foundation, SCP-1272 ("Slow-Motion Catastrophe"). When the SCP teams that were sent inside SCP-1272 finally emerge centuries later, they are expected to experience readjustment shock, including wondering what has happened to their relatives (who are probably all long dead).

    Tabletop Games 
  • A major theme in the Underground roleplaying game from Mayfair Games. A Player Character begins as he's discharged from service as a genetically enhanced warrior conditioned to think of himself like an ultraviolent superhero, into a decaying ruins of American culture with civilians who fear and hate them and a corrupt and totalitarian government (an intentional reference to the state of Vietnam veterans coming home after the Vietnam War).
  • In Changeling: The Lost, every Changeling is a former human who was kidnapped into the Land of Faerie and transformed by their time there. After escaping, they often find that the world has changed in their absence — some some of them have been gone for several decades, even if their time in Arcadia wasn't that long — to say nothing of their own new powers and insight into the supernatural world. Even when You Can't Go Home Again doesn't apply, trying to return to their old lives usually ends awfully for them and the Muggles around them.
  • In Dungeons & Dragons, the halfling hero Urogalan left his village with his faithful hound to venture into the afterlife, and then, much to the villagers' amazement, he returned. They could see that Urogalan had been deeply affected by his experiences, since he didn't speak for a long time. He merely sat in a white robe with his hound by his side, watching the world go by. When he did speak at last, he told of a place he called the Green Fields, where the halflings' god-heroes live alongside mortals who have passed on, enjoying lush farmland, bright sunshine, and all the comforts of home.undertaking a journey to see

    Video Games 
  • The original Fallout. Though perhaps in this case, it's not so much the Vault Dweller himself that has the problem, it's the Overseer telling him he could inspire some of the younger Vault dwellers to leave themselves, so the Player Character has to leave for the good of the community. If you have negative karma (possible) or the otherwise entirely useless "Bloody Mess" trait (you always see the most gruesome death animations) you are given the option to shoot him in the face at that point. Otherwise you leave quietly.
    • Lampshaded in the sequel, Fallout 3, where Girl Next Door and possibly High School Sweetheart Amata calls the Lone Wanderer back to help her into stopping an outright civil war in their community, then, quoting almost verbatim the Overseer from Fallout, blames the civil war on him, banishing the Lone Wanderer forever. Owing to the sandbox quality of the modern Fallout games, you can still shoot her in the face
      • At least, if Amata's dad, the Overseer is killed. If he instead is talked down, not only is the nigh-verbatim quote from the Vault Dweller's Overseer left unsaid, but Amata's phrasing indicates that she herself doesn't blame the Lone Wanderer for the civil war — she just believes that others do, and that the Wanderer's presence will keep wounds open and increase tensions at a time when stability is critical for the Vault.
    • This is effectively the plot in Fallout 4: Vault 111's theme was cryogenics research, and the player character was used as a test subject for over 210 years. When they come back to their hometown just a mile away, it's destroyed beyond restoration and has to be scrapped to do any good. Even then, some of their friends and family survived... but most of them have been changed by the wasteland, most importantly their son, who was raised by Mad Scientist isolationists and has been terrorizing the wasteland in a well-meaning attempt to save the best of humanity (who are literally detached from the outside world and not exactly going anywhere in their progress). Also, even if you support him, he has stage-three cancer; bringing him back with superscience would REALLY warp his mind into something irredeemable, so he's a dead man.
  • Link in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. After being in limbo for 7 years due to Fi not deeming him worthy of wielding the Master Sword, he's grown up only to find that all his friends haven't. Turns out he's a different species to them anyway. They don't recognize him and many of them actually miss the child Link that left. Link seems to decide not to tell them (though Mido might know).
    • Also the start of The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. Unable to cope with the memories of his future self and saving the world after the reset by telling Zelda and her father that Ganondorf will enact his scheme of using them to open the Door of Time, thus stopping him before he even began his plan of ruling Hyrule, he left everything he knew in Kokiri Forest to find Navi again.
  • In Jak II: Renegade, Jak and Daxter are in their old homeland only hundreds of years in the future. This actually turns out to be Jak's real time as the whole game revolves around making sure his younger self gets sent back in time to help fulfill The Prophecy.
  • Dragon Age:
    • The original Dragon Age: Origins had a mild example, or at least one that's not drawn as much attention to: if you befriended Sten and speak to him after defeating the Archdemon, he'll suggest that Seheron might not be quite the same to him as it would have been, since your adventures have changed his view of the world somewhat. This is especially true if your Warden is a female mage, since Qunari believe women are not competent warriors and mages aren't even people, and you've just killed both of those ideas. His writer Mary Kirby says he may even have had to spend some time with the Ben-Hassrath for all the strange ideas he's picked up (though Those Who Speak shows he's reintegrated pretty well, if being promoted to Arishok is any indication). If you didn't befriend him, he'll just be happy to be able to go home and get away from Ferelden's strangeness.
    • Dragon Age II: All that's left of what Hawke's mother had in Kirkwall is a bitter brother to remind her of what she'd lost. When Aveline asks Hawke about returning to Lothering, he/she can reply that it's no longer home.
  • Chrono Cross has an odd example. Within the first half hour, the hero gets sucked into an alternate dimension where he died as a child and everything's different...except that the next 20 hours of the game are in Another World and it takes that long to gain the ability to return to Home World. The player never really gets the opportunity to explore Home until then. Serge is a Heroic Mime, so we don't know his thoughts on this, but meta-wise this trope is in force for the player. However, since the first time you get to properly explore it is after getting body swapped with your nemesis Lynx, who is feared throughout the land, its something of an example for him as well.
  • Prince Keifer in Dragon Quest VII. He had a fantastic adventure Trapped in Another World in a spinoff game, Dragon Quest Monsters: Caravan Heart, years earlier, and ever since then has been struck with a lust for adventure and wandering which proves quite problematic for somebody trapped in palace life in a world with only a single, perfectly peaceful and rather small island, due to Orgodemir the Demon King sealing them away. To say that he Jumped at the Call is an understatement; the only reason anybody found the call is because he spent the years between the spinoff and the game proper going over the island with a fine-toothed comb for something interesting.
  • Baldur's Gate 2 has an example of this in the epilogue for one of the characters: Imoen briefly returns to Candlekeep, but finds it smaller than she remembers, and goes on to adventure with various other famous heroes in the setting.
  • Invoked in Bloodborne: You're tasked with defeating the spawn of the Old Gods so that you can get out of the Eldritch Location you're stuck in and go home... but you might learn too much. The more "Insight" you obtain, the more your character comes to understand a smidgen about how these incomprehensible beings work and gain Through the Eyes of Madness. Your character may become enthralled by the pursuit of occult knowledge, or fearful that these creatures will devour humanity if they are not hunted down and chased out of the universe. If you choose to stay after your quest is done, Gehrman decides to mercy-kill you because only a madman would willingly continue to murder and be murdered by an endless slew of Eldritch Abominations while they are subjected to daily Mind Rape. In the ending where you don't, it's revealed that you were adventuring in your home town all along; just in astral form and subject to Your Mind Makes It Real eldritch vision.
  • In Life Is Strange, Max feels this way after returning to her home town to attend a finishing school 5 years after moving away. Not only doesn't she know anyone too well (mainly staying in her room, and barely getting to know her dorm-mates), but she's too afraid to contact her former best friend Chloe (because of the guilt of failing to stay in contact after the death of her dad, who Max was also close to). As much of the game is spent showing her rediscovering the town and reconnecting with Chloe (now a rebellious, blue haired lad-ette stoner, although just as energetic as she remembers) as investigating the supernatural happenings.
  • In World of Warcraft Dragonflight, the dragon Veritistrasz was born in the Dragon Isles before they were sealed away. Having returned 10,000 years later, he finds himself adrift as the very landscape now seems alien to him.
  • Mortal Kombat 11: Kitana's ending features this. She uses the Sands of Time to restore Edenia, her ancestral homeland, which was destroyed by Outworld thousands of years ago. However, she finds herself unable to connect with its culture and people, thanks to being adopted by Shao Kahn as a young girl and raised in Outworld. Although she is ethnically Edenian, Kitana is an Outworlder through and through.

  • In Quentyn Quinn, Space Ranger, thanks to temporal dilation, quirks in various forms of FTL travel, gravity wells and other Negative Space Wedgies, it's essentially the default outcome for all members of the Space Ranger Corps.
  • Hudson in The Lydian Option attributes his return to the frontiers of space to a feeling that he was an outcast after human rights protests against actions he participated in during the Spiral War.
  • In No Rest for the Wicked, after their rescue, the children still realize their father abandoned them deliberately, and are giving him wary looks in the midst of the embrace.
  • At the end of Inverloch, Kayn'dar recovers his identity and reveals that he's capable of healing Severed elves. Lei'ella, who was exiled when she was a preteen, finds that she's long since accepted mortality and doesn't want to tacitly support the people who exiled her by erasing what made her different, so she stays as she is and joins human society with Varden.
  • Discussed in this xkcd comic. The worlds depicted in most video games avert this every time the player restarts the game — barring games on MMO servers or update patches, they're always the same environment as the first time the player starts it up. Randall, though, keeps expecting the worlds to feel the effects of time in old games he plays again for old time's sake.
    Toad: Thank you, Mario! But this is a Panera now!
  • This is a major recurring theme in Joe vs. Elan School after Joe goes home after three years of being abused in the titular school. He finds that all his friends got to finish high school and live their lives normally; in particular, Girl Next Door Chloe has a new boyfriend, and Joe's best friend P is off at college three hours away. Meanwhile, Joe is so PTSD-ridden that he can hardly bring himself to leave his house, let alone socialize.

    Web Original 
  • This happened to Adam Dodd when he finally arrived back home after winning season one of Survival of the Fittest. He eventually moved across the country as part of his attempt to cope with his experiences on the island.
  • The amateur film Alex Kralie wanted to make was about this trope. It soon became apparent that he had bigger concerns.

    Western Animation 
  • In the Arthur episode "Buster's Back", Buster Baxter returns to Elwood City after traveling with his father, a pilot. When he comes back, a lot of things have changed, including his friends loving a clown show they all hated before he left. However, this is downplayed, as he's readjusted by the next episode.
  • Teen Titans has this as the theme of the series finale ("Things Change"). After spending most of the season on the road in a Heroes Unlimited plot, they come home to find all their favourite stores are gone and a monster the likes of which they've never seen is on the loose. Oh, and there's a dead ringer for Terra wandering around who wants nothing to do with the hero life.
  • Zuko lives this trope for the first half of Season 3 of Avatar: The Last Airbender. While it wasn't exactly his home, Aang was rather alienated by the changes made to the Northern Air Temple so refugees could move in, but came to accept that it's their home now.
  • In one episode of Justice League, it is revealed that Green Lantern's greatest fear is that this has happened to him, and that he's become nothing more than an extension of his ring.
  • Parodied in South Park where a man was frozen in ice for three years and can't adjust to life in 1999.
  • In Garfield and Friends, Garfield once found the now abandoned restaurant where he was born and found out his mother and her family still live there, but he no longer fits.
  • 90 Day Wondering, a Warner Bros. cartoon sponsored by the U.S. Army is about a soldier who returns home to civilian life and finds that his old friends are nowhere to be found, all of the girls that he knew are now married and off the market and that there's no place for him in his hometown anymore, so he decides to reenlist.
  • Pretty much the upshot of the World-Healing Wave in the finale of Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated. Mystery Incorporated are happy Crystal Cove transformed from a Town with a Dark Secret to a genuinely idyllic place, but they're left without anything to do. After all, what good are mystery solvers in a town without mysteries? Fortunately, Harlan Ellison shows up to give them purpose in their lives again.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants: Parodied in the episode "Sandy's Rocket". When SpongeBob and Patrick go on Sandy's Rocket, they land back in Bikini Bottom, although they think they're on the moon. They capture everyone in town since they think that they're aliens. When SpongeBob returns "home", he actually lands on the moon. He says that Bikini Bottom sure looks different:
    Everyone: SpongeBob, we aliens would like a word with you!
  • In Star Wars: The Bad Batch, the main protagonists, after returning from a mission on Kaller, encountered a different galaxy. Specifically, they saw their fellow clones acting more robotically and blindly following orders, including killing Jedi who tried to overthrow Palpatine just because he was gonna end the Clone Wars anyway. The main protagonist weren't aware of Order 66 and the beginning of the Empire. Unable to reconciliate their old ways of living with the new government, especially after sparing Saw Gerrera on Onderon when they should've killed him when they had the chance, they essentially became outlaws.
  • Steven Universe has Lapis, who in her debut used the world's oceans to try and build a pillar to return to her home planet. After Steven heals her gem, she regains her wings and is finally able fly back to her home. But when she does, she finds that Homeworld has exponentially changed in the 5,000 years she was gone. Homeworld had advanced too far for Lapis to the point of her being unable to fit in.
  • Big City Greens is about a family of country folk moving to Big City. Eventually, they move back to the country once they're financially stable. However, once they do, they realize that they've been in the city for so long, that the country has changed while they were gone. The second half of the third season is about the Greens then readjusting to country life.

    Real Life 
  • Explorer Marco Polo experienced this. He left home at 17 to explore Asia with his father and uncle and didn't return for almost 25 years. He barely spoke his own language anymore and of the family that was still alive, most of them thought he was already dead or didn't recognize him.
  • Teresa Cristina, the consort of Pedro II, was born a Princess of the Kingom of Sicilies, and left her homeland in the 1843. Her family's kingdom was toppled during the Risorgimento, and when she returned to Sicily in 1872, she was heartbroken finding everything she knew swept away.
    Teresa Cristina: "I do not know how to tell what was the impression I had upon seeing again, after 28 years, my fatherland and not to find anyone for whom I cared."