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The Disembodied

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In the world of fiction, life and death aren't always black and white, there's a very large and very varied grey area - see Only Mostly Dead. One aspect of which is characters that aren't dead so much as corporeally challenged.

The Disembodied was once human but lost his body through a bizarre accident without actually dying. In other words, they're the Technically Living Zombie variant of a ghost. This may happen through Astral Projection and then having your body destroyed, or being unable to go back for one reason or another. This may also happen when someone with Soul Power pulls someone else's soul out of their body without "killing" them.

Compare with An Astral Projection, Not a Ghost, Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence and Virtual Ghost.


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    Anime & Manga  

    Comic Books  
  • A variation appears in ElfQuest. Unfortunately, it needs a lot of spoilers because it happens late in the story. Winnowill chooses to die in order that her disembodied malevolent soul can destroy her enemies and wreak havoc. Instead, Rayek absorbs her soul and holds her captive in his own body. It's an endless, bitter struggle and we haven't seen the end of it yet.
  • Hellboy: Johann Kraus was a German psychic whose body was destroyed due to a psychic disaster. His ectoplasmic form 'survived', but needs to be constantly contained to prevent it from dispersing.
  • The Legion of Super-Heroes' Wildfire, sort of like Johann Kraus, is a being of pure energy who needs to wear a suit to survive.
  • Marvel Comics:
    • Holocaust from Age of Apocalypse and Exiles.
    • A minor student at the Xavier academy in the X-Men comics, Dummy, was also basically a suit with sentient gas inside of it.
  • Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen was completely torn apart at an atomic level due to a Freak Lab Accident, but his consciousness remained and very gradually was able to piece together a body. He doesn't NEED the body, though. If his body is destroyed again, his mind will be unaffected, and can easily make a new body this time.

  • Voldemort in Harry Potter, following a backfired Killing Curse. He can't die until all of his Horcruxes are destroyed, but actually reincarnating himself takes quite a bit of effort and an entire book's worth of Xanatos Speed Chess, both from himself and from his Renfield-like henchmen.
  • In the German pulp sci-fi magazine series Perry Rhodan, a man named Ernst Ellert was among the first generation of known "mutants" (people with psychic powers) and was a member of the first Mutant Corps; his power was the ability to separate his mind (or astral body, or soul, whatever you want to call it) from his physical body and travel through time and space along temporal strands. He could travel to the past, or could select the statistically most probable future among several potential futures and follow the strand to see where it led. He died a heroic death in 1972 in an accident with high voltage, but the shock of dying completely separated his astral body from his body and he was hurled through time and space. After a long odyssey (during which he learned that his astral body could enter and control the bodies of physical beings), he eventually managed to return to 21st century Earth. For a short time, he was even forced to "possess" his own preserved dead body, until the deteriorating state of the body put it beyond his powers. In the year 4013, Ellert was given a new material body, created by advanced alien technology out of billions of sentient nanomachines. The new body was humanoid, although Ellert's control over the nanites allowed him to transform his body into a cloud of nanomachines and solidify it again at will, i.e. if he wanted to walk through walls.
  • In Tolkien's Legendarium, this happens to Sauron multiple times. As a Maia, his natural state is as a spirit, but he can construct a physical body for himself at will, although if these are destroyed rather than willingly cast off it can take a long time to create a new one, to the point that he was willing to surrender to Lúthien and Huan rather than have his body killed by Huan. He was later reduced to a disembodied spirit in the Fall of Númenor, again when he lost the One Ring and finally and irreversibly (until doomsday) when the Ring was destroyed.

    Live-Action TV  
  • Doctor Who has Omega in "The Three Doctors" (he's been so eaten away by anti-matter that only his will exists) and, most recently, Dr. Simeon, aka The Great Intelligence.
  • The Flash (2014): Season 6 reveals that following the Crisis, Eobard Thawne/Reverse-Flash was somehow reduced to a being of pure negative energy. This lasts until the end of Season 7, when Barry has no choice but to have the Speed Force restore Thawne to help fight Godspeed.
  • The Outer Limits (1995): In the episode "Free Spirit", a human test subject became a disembodied body-possessing spirit after his body was terminated in the middle of a mind transference experiment. Then he comes back for revenge against the scientists responsible for his death.
  • General Zod in Smallville until the events of "Dominion".
  • Stargate Atlantis: A group of rogue Asurans (killer androids made of nanites related to the Replicators in SG-1) attempt to achieve ascension by destroying their original bodies and becoming incorporeal, but because they aren't organic this simply left them in a transient state.

    Newspaper Comics  
  • Allen the Amorphous Cloud of Gas in Dilbert was so uncommitted that eventually the particles that make him up became bored and stopped binding. Now he exists only as a faint odour near the copy room.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition supplements for Psychic Powers introduced "unbodied," psionic humanoids that have transcended their physical shells and now exist as entities of pure thought. Player characters can get in on this with the "psion uncarnate" Prestige Class, which allows them to evolve into incorporeal beings.

    Video Games  
  • The Luteces in BioShock Infinite are this, more or less. A not-so-Freak Lab Accident killed them, leaving behind bodies to be buried, but also scattered them across time and space, allowing them to visit the city mortician and complain about the job he did on their corpses. They're able to interact with the world as necessary, but can ignore bullets as from their perspective, even a point-blank shot will always miss them. It's probably quantum.
  • In BlazBlue, Yuuki Terumi is the disembodied spirit of the Susanoo Unit itself. He hated serving his "sister" Amaterasu and sought to usurp her, but his own body's hardwired limitations prevented him from doing so directly, so he had to abandon it to set his plans in motion. He eventually returns to his original body in the last installment of the series Central Fiction and serves as the franchise's Final Boss.
  • In City of Heroes, Positron was a guy who was essentially converted completely into antimatter. He was stuck permanently inside his armor, and when it was damaged, he actually started leaking out. At one point, Badass Normal Manticore successfully scares off a whole group of powerful supervillains by threatening to put an arrow through Positron, turning the guy into an antimatter bomb. One of the comic story lines ended with Positron having a wish for a regular human body granted, with his character in-game changed to reflect this.
  • Honkai Impact 3rd: In the backstory, Seele Vollerei was put in an experiment related to quantum physics. Unfortunately for her, it Went Horribly Wrong, causing her body to dissipate into atoms. However, her consciousness survived in the "Imaginary Space", and she becomes unable to interact with any kind of matter, nor could she be heard or interacted with. Bronya (her friend), knowing that she's still alive, vowed to find a way to restore her. In chapter 11 of the game, they finally meet each other again when Bronya stumbled into the Sea of Quanta. Then, after a series of struggles, the two manage to go back to the real world, and Seele regains her physical form.
  • The postgame of Kirby and the Forgotten Land has this happening to two characters: Fecto Forgo, whose body was totally destroyed after Kirby ran them over, and Leongar, whose soul Fecto tore out of his body and shattered into hundreds of pieces so they can use him as a replacement vessel.
  • In The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, Cole forces Zelda's soul out of her body so he can use it as a vessel to resurrect the Demon King Malladus without worrying about her Fighting from the Inside.
  • Both the ending and the bonus chapter of Mystery Case Files: Incident at Pendle Tower reveal that both Millicent and Bobby, who were thought to be bonafide ghosts for the whole game, are actually this: Dr. Corman's experiment didn't kill them per se, but turned them into spirits. And, as shown by the endgame, this is reversible, as both regain their physical bodies when the experiment itself if reversed by the Master Detective.
  • Issue #10 of The Secret World reveals that the Black Signal, initially introduced as an incorporeal Eldritch Abomination with a penchant for calling itself John, is actually one of these: once a human member of the Fear Nothing Foundation, he supposedly ended his life detonating a Filth-bomb on the Tokyo subway... but instead of being killed or merely infected, the pure Filth at the epicenter of the blast converted him into a disembodied Filth-entity capable of possessing any mind touched by the Filth - or tech, which he greatly prefers.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) brings us Mephiles the Dark, the mind and will of the time god Solaris. As the Duke of Soleanna tried to harness its power for his own ends (specifically to resurrect his fallen wife), Solaris angrily rebelled and exploded, splitting into Iblis and Mephiles. Both of them were sealed away separately until Dr. Eggman accidentally freed Mephiles ten years later. During the Last Story, Mephiles frees Iblis and rejoins with it, recreating Solaris.

    Web Video 
  • Carmilla the Series: J.P. was a student at Silas University a couple centuries ago, but an unspecified accident led to him being absorbed into the library's archives. While he's not really alive anymore, he's not exactly "dead," as he was conscious the whole time and retained his personality and cognitive abilities. He's stuck around well into The New '10s, and is now able to be communicated with via the computer system. He gets a new body in the second season.

    Western Animation  
  • The ghosts in Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures are technically not completely dead in the sense, as they were stripped of their corporal bodies as punishment for trying to take over Pac-World.