A Rule of Perception-based Retcon in which something the characters are fooled by that should obviously be fake from its physical appearance alone isn't obvious to the audience, because it is portrayed the way the characters perceive until its true nature is revealed. For example, rather than have a Paper-Thin Disguise be obvious to the audience but not the characters the whole way through, said disguise is foolproof to both parties until the characters find out they've been tricked, at which point it inexplicably changes its appearance so that it looks appropiately shoddy.
Note that magic, visual tricks, or a masquerade suddenly falling apart (see Game Face, Glamour Failure, The Shadow Knows, Missing Reflection and The Mirror Shows Your True Self) once the characters come to their realization are not involved. Rather, the disguise or object should logically appear to be obviously-fake the whole way through, but the visuals portray it as if it were the real deal so that both the characters and audience will be fooled until The Reveal when the visuals change for no discernible reason. In Watsonian versus Doylist terms, while the Doylist explanation for why its appearance changed is that the audience needed to be fooled just like the characters, there is no Watsonian explanation for why the audience saw it the way they did, at least not for stories that don't have an Unreliable Narrator who describes and visualizes absolutely everything as it's happening with no alternate perspectives. There might be a minor Rewatch Bonus revolving around hints in the behavior of the person or object, but visually, there's unlikely to be anything.
Compare Paper-Thin Disguise where an obviously-fake disguise is obvious to the audience the entire time rather than suddenly changing once the truth is revealed. Also compare Tomato Surprise. Through the Eyes of Madness would occur if the audience and characters see the fake thing as real because the character serving as our viewpoint is crazy, though this trope would be more "Through the Eyes of the Deceived" until they find out the truth and the perception changes. An Ass Pull can occur for extreme examples, but not always.
Due to the bait-and-switch nature of this trope and how heavily it relies on the audience going in blind, expect spoilers.
- Case Closed uses this constantly whenever the culprits of the various criminal cases are sneaking around doing stuff before they get pinpointed by Conan or the other heroes. In these scenes, the culprits always get portrayed as thin silhouettes without any identifying features like hair, clothing, or obvious gender. If they ever suddenly get caught while sneaking, however, they often turn out to look nothing like that silhouette (for instance, the culprit may be an overweight woman with fancy clothes and hair).
- Gravestone of Daisuke Jigen: The Big Bad of the film successfully manages to assassinate his mark, Jigen, with a well-placed sniper shot to the head at the end of Part 1. In Part 2, however, the bullet is revealed in a flashback to have barely missed Jigen's head, giving him the opportunity to fake his death by detonating a small device filled with blood placed on his forehead. Here, he lifts up his hat up to reveal the device, but prior to the reveal he does no such thing, at least from the assassin's point of view.
- Mobile Fighter G Gundam: Among the show's Word of God-admitted tendency to defy logic for the sake of being awesome is a trend of Death Army troops managing to perfectly imitate any mobile fighter by copying a few of its armaments and adding a new headdress. Despite the individual units never adjusting their color schemes, face, or anything from the chest down (and even then, the only torso changes to expect are a new chestplate or backpack), both the characters and audience will see them as an exact duplicate of the imitated mobile fighter until the truth is revealed and it becomes obvious that they are just a Death Army trooper with two or three new parts slapped on.
- Shin Mazinger: The Gamia sisters get hit with this once revealed as deadly gynoid assassins. They never show any robotic attributes during their Furo Scene, best seen when one of them is briefly shown fully nude in a few frames shortly after they jump into action and start whipping their razor-sharp pigtails around (though she was about as detailed as a Barbie doll at that moment). After some exposition fully explains them to be gynoids all along, they suddenly appear more robotic than before, their bodies gaining doll-like joints.
- In Transformers: Go!, Tobio pulls a Wounded Gazelle Gambit to steal Kotaro Fuma's Legendisc and instead grabs an old plate. The shots before he finds out that it's a plate show him grabbing a silver disc and then holding up an orange circle for both of the Legendisc's sides, neither of which resemble the dull gray plate.
- Suikakasen has Seiga summon a copy of herself to chop up its own arm to emphasize a Humans Are Bastards point she's making to Yoshika. After finishing talking, she reveals that (among other things) the copy is just a puppet, and its elbows and wrists gain obvious doll joints not visible in the previous shots of its seemingly-organic arms.
- Mulan is drawn with several slight differences when disguised as a man, to aid the plausibility of her appearance (for example, she has eyelashes only when she's not in disguise). The shot in which her imposture is exposed as she sits up in bed has her drawn with the variations for her feminine appearance, even though all that has changed since the last scene is that her secret is known.
- Downplayed in Scooby-Doo! and the Monster of Mexico. The "skeleton" operating a The Wizard of Oz-style holographic ghost is clearly a man in a costume from the beginning. What's not clear is who's in the costume, until he gets unmasked. After we find out it's the fat Mr. Smiley, his costumed body-shape goes from being rather thin to being realistically fat, despite him wearing the costume the entire time.
- Played for laughs in the first Austin Powers film. Austin is in a nightclub when he suddenly screams that an attractive woman is a man. When we cut back to "her", she's suddenly and very obviously a burly, unshaven stunt artist in drag, who attacks Austin.
- Similarly played for humor in Spaceballs, where Dark Helmet's troops pursue and capture our heroes. Alas, they've only captured their stunt doubles. (Most of them are fairly convincing, except for Princess Vespa, who has a mustache... and a cigar).
- James Bond:
- In the cold open of From Russia with Love, Red Grant strangles "Bond" and it's revealed to be a SPECTRE training montage, then the corpse turns out to have a James Bond mask
- Thunderball, also in the cold open, Bond punches the widow, who had been played by a woman that far, and she becomes a man in drag — the supposedly deceased husband.
- In one chapter of Robert Sheckley's Dimension of Miracles, Carmody encounters three humans, has a conversation with them and follows them to their ship. Only then does he notice they are nothing more than cylinders of flesh with some features painted upon them, and the ship is the mouth of a predator attempting to eat him. Before this, they are described as walking, blushing, exchanging looks... but once Carmody looks carefully, they have no parts to do any of these things. Just three fingers.
- In one Key & Peele sketch, several friends having a party panic when they see what appears to be an incoming drive-by, when it's really an acquaintance pulling a prank. When Peele's character first shows up, he's in a black jacket and fancy car and drawing a pistol, but when his prank is revealed, the jacket is now made out of a garbage bag, the pistol is made of licorice, and the car is just one painted wood panel.
- In Dungeons & Dragons illusion spells look completely real (but may not seem real to all five senses. It depends on the spell) unless someone interacting with them succeeds at their saving throw to disbelieve the illusion, at which point they can still see the illusion but it looks like an phantasmal outline of the object or creature it's meant to look like.
- Late in its lifespan, a patch to Crusader Kings II added an event where it was possible for a character to be revealed to have been a bear the entire time (in a reference to the Sir Bearington 4chan greentext story), with the character portrait changing from looking perfectly human to just being a polar bear wearing clothes. The flavour text for one of the variants of the event even makes it clear that before the "reveal", they hadn't even been trying to disguise their behaviour as being anything but that of a bear (eg, eating inhuman quantities of food and then going off to sleep, and apparently large quantities of honey going missing around them).
- In Octodad: Dadliest Catch, Chef Fujimoto dresses up a mannequin with a T-shirt, fruit, and meat to trick Octodad into thinking it's his wife. The mannequin looks like a person until the moment he touches it.
- Psychonauts: The true identity of the Phantom (who is Lean and Mean) is Jasper Rolls, an enormously fat man. The difference between the disguise and the true man is fairly convincing. Once Jasper takes off the Phantom mask, it barely fits his own face.
- In Team Fortress 2, the spies appear with a literal Paper-Thin Disguise consisting of a mask of whoever they're disguised as to their own team. The other team just sees the character model of their disguise, but see the spy normally if they force them to lose their disguise or kill them (which leaves the mask on the dead spy).
- Valkyria Chronicles 4: In Chapter 2, Platoon E's mission is to infiltrate an Imperial Alliance-held town and relay the location of the enemy tank platoon guarding it to allied artillery. However, the tank platoon has inflated their numbers by setting up decoy tanks which are further disguised by the visibility-reducing fog covering the town, preventing Platoon E from properly telling them apart from a distance. In actual gameplay, this translates to said decoys sharing the same in-game model as the real enemy tanks in the map. If your current unit approaches one up close, the "tank" will suddenly turn into a shoddy fascimile that has been slapped together with wooden boards.
- Goblins: Complains is explaining something by drawing in the dirt when Fumbles and Minmax chime in, sticking in objects to represent themselves. The next strip, the other goblins have returned to discussing plans when Fumbles and Minmax react to something off-screen and prepare to fight. Minmax starts to summon his sword, Oblivious, and Fumbles sticks his hand through the summoning portal and draws his own copy of Oblivious. Minmax puts on a "crown of plus a schwillion charisma". The two are arguing about whether he has the crown when Complains yells at them to stop playing with toys, and the next panel reveals that Minmax and Fumbles are still playing with their prop items and that the preceding sequence had been their imagination.
- Adventure Time:
- In "Red Starved", Finn starts searching for a red object for Marceline to suck the color out of, and his search leads him to a creature with a large ruby. Finn requests the ruby, which the creature insists is an emerald before giving it to him. Once Finn returns to Marceline and Jake, Jake also tells Finn that the ruby is an emerald. After Jake explains that Finn must be a little colorblind, the "ruby" changes to green to indicate that it is indeed an emerald.
- In "The Tower", Finn builds a tower into space in order to track down his deadbeat dad Martin and avenge the loss of his arm. Finn passes out due to oxygen deprivation, and wakes up in Martin's spaceship, where he ambushes his father and attempts to rip his arm off. When Finn can't go through with it, "Martin" turns on the lights and is revealed to be Princess Bubblegum in a badly-made full-body costume, who explains the "spaceship" is actually a bunker in the Candy Kingdom.
- American Dad!: In one episode, Roger reveals that for each member of the Smith family, he has a disguise that they cannot see through. To demonstrate this, we cut to a flashback of Steve kissing a girl. At first she looks like a normal teenaged girl. However, as Steve goes in to kiss her, it becomes clear she's just Roger in a wig and makeup.
- In Bunnicula, Chester and Patches spend a whole episode fighting over a female cat, while Harold and Bunnicula seem oddly perplexed the whole time. At the end of the episode, it's revealed that the "female cat" was actually a sack of flour, which Harold and Bunnicula knew the whole time, and both Chester and Patches were getting carried away by hormones.
- Exaggerated in one episode of Dave the Barbarian where Chuckles created an evil clockwork duplicate of Dave that looks identical to the original and Fang and Uncle Ozwidge are too dumb to figure out which is the fake even though the imposter acts extremely out of character. They ask Candy which one is the fake and she points out that the fake has a giant and incredibly obvious Wind-Up Key in its back and is surprised that they didn't noticed it before. The wind-up key and the clicking sounds that it makes only become visible and audible to the audience after she points it out. Additionally, before this is revealed the fake Dave is seen sneaking with his back against a wall which should not have been possible if the key was there the whole time.
- The Fairly OddParents!: "Wish Fixers" has Jorgen on the Pixies' side until Cosmo bumps into him, at which point it is revealed that he is actually a robot copy with a wire sticking out to plug into the wall. No such plug or wire is visible until "Jorgen's" true nature is revealed.
- Family Guy: In "Lois Comes Out of Her Shell", Peter constructs a very elaborate fake grocery store to get Lois out of the house so his family can prepare her birthday party. The scene then cuts to Lois running around in a seemingly real store, but when she tries to grab the pickles, all the backdrops fall over and she's in the middle of the desert. Even the employee she was talking to a second ago is revealed to be a cardboard cutout and falls over when she tries to ask what's going on.
- The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy: During "The Secret Snake Club", Irwin's supervillain plot is foiled by Billy, who's become a CIA agent. Billy then reveals that Tammy, who was previously depicted as a regular girl the same height as Irwin, was their insider that gave them info about his plan. As soon as this is explained, "Tammy" is now a man with the same build as the rest of the CIA agents, even having body hair and a grey mustache, just wearing "her" clothes.
- Jellystone!: In "Cats Do Dance", Top Cat reveals to the King that his gang's poor dancing was really a distraction while Choo-Choo left to hack a Kill Sat to zap the King's gang. When King notes that Choo-Choo is right there with the others, "Choo-Choo" takes off her mask to reveal that she was Fancy-Fancy in disguise, and reveals that the other Fancy-Fancy was just a mop with his face drawn on it. And the fake Fancy-Fancy, who until this point looked just like the original, is suddenly a mop that falls over.
- The Ren & Stimpy Show: "Aloha Hoek" ends with Stimpy mourning his seemingly-deceased friend Ren, until his wristwatch suddenly buzzes. He drops Ren, and then they suddenly appear bulgy with visible zippers, mask lines on their necks, and empty eye sockets. A Dramatic Unmask follows, revealing they are actually Soviet communist spies vaguely resembling Russian caricatures of Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble. The normally slender "Ren"'s body even suddenly appears fatter after his mask comes off.
- Right Now Kapow: In the Prank School sketch, the titular school is revealed to be just a cardboard cutout during graduation. After the headmaster berates her "students" for believing prank school was a real thing that could lead to gainful employment someday, and after she mocks the effectiveness of her "students'" last prank, it's also revealed the audience were also cardboard cutouts. And so are the graduates, their families, the headmaster, and everything else, including the show itself.
- The Simpsons:
- "The Springfield Files" has Homer see a man engulfed in green light that he assumes to be an alien, and eventually manages to convince the town to come to the same location another Friday night. The figure also appears to be completely bald, with a small nose and mouth. Lisa and Smithers then reveal the alien to be Mr. Burns after getting special treatments every Friday and glowing green from the power plant's radiation. At this point, his green glow becomes much fainter (so that it doesn't engulf his entire body) and makes it clear that he is just Mr. Burns. He suddenly has his usual gray balding hair, pointy nose, and sharp teeth, and the flashback showing him getting his treatments follows suit.
- In "The Computer Wore Menace Shoes", Homer goes to what appears to be the Kwik-E-Mart, but it turns out to actually be a truck trailer disguised as the convenience store in which Homer is to be kidnapped. Despite the fairly obvious cutout standee of Apu behind the counter, the trailer appears to be the actual Kwik-E-Mart inside and out, and when the walls fold up to reveal the truck trailer, three-dimensional elements to the store's exterior like the pay phones and milk crates turn flat. Even the glass windows showing the store's interior turn out to be impossibly fake.
- South Park: In-Universe in The Succubus during the Nessie stories Chef's dad tells. All of them are about Nessie bugging Chef's parents for "tree fiddy", and one of them involves the monster dressing up as a Girl Scout selling cookies. Chef's parents don't recognize him... until he asks for tree fiddy.
Chef's Dad: Well it was about that time that I noticed this "Girl Scout" was about eight stories tall and was a crustacean from the Paleozoic Era.
- SpongeBob SquarePants:
- "The Algae's Always Greener" has Plankton journey to an Alternate Universe where he's in charge of the Krusty Krab, which eventually sees him put Squidward on grill duty instead of SpongeBob. A customer complains to Plankton about a Krabby Patty that Squidward made, which initially looks to both Plankton and the audience to be an ordinary Krabby Patty. Then we cut to a Gross-Up Close-Up of the sandwich and see that it's decidedly not an ordinary Krabby Patty.
- The plot of "Penny Foolish'' relies on Mr. Krabs and the audience both seeing a piece of green gum as a brown penny until SpongeBob shows Mr. Krabs what he really picked up off the sidewalk that day.
- "One Coarse Meal" has Plankton be terrorized by Pearl until the second half when it is revealed that "Pearl" is really Mr. Krabs in a costume with visible seams and patches that can't disguise the shape of his body from the head down. Before this, his costume was a one-to-one recreation of his daughter.
- Xiaolin Showdown: Inverted in the episode "Chameleon". Jack kidnaps Kimiko and replaces her with the Chameleon-bot, which mimics her appearance. When the bot appears around Kimiko's friends, it has a clearly robotic appearance and tone of voice. However, when the real Kimiko shows up next to it, the bot now looks and sounds identical to her.