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"My machine allows your mind to inhabit a body in the past"
H.G. Wells, Warehouse 13

A form of Time Travel where you don't physically go back in time. Instead, your body goes back to where it was in the state that it was, but you keep your memories from the future. The advantage is that, if done correctly, it neatly sidesteps many of the logical conundrums and paradoxes associated with time travel. The disadvantage is that your range of times to travel to is limited to the time your body can function for these purposes, a few decades at most. The other disadvantage is that it doesn't make physical sense.

A common variation is that the time traveler isn't going back to their own body, but to someone else's, maybe sharing their consciousness and having mental conversations or maybe a full Grand Theft Me. This gets around the disadvantage of the destination being with a few decades of the starting point, while still avoiding some of the logical problems with paradox.

Depending on what point the writer is trying to make, it sometimes turns out that you can't actually change anything in the past, and are forced to live through all your mistakes again.

Groundhog Day Loop stories often (but not always) use this mechanism. Also see Peggy Sue fanfic.

Unstuck in Time is usually a version of this.

Contrast with Intangible Time Travel.

Examples of Mental Time Travel include:


Anime & Manga

  • Rika and Hanyuu in Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, though they're not always able to keep all of their memories.
    • Most of the cast, actually, they just drop more memories.
  • Tomoya from Clannad seems to undergo this.
  • Combined with standard Time Travel in Katekyo Hitman Reborn. After the Vongola return to the past, the Arcobaleno send the memories of the future versions of the non-time travelling characters to their present versions.
  • In Konpeki no Kantai, when Isoroku Yamamoto's plan is shot down in 1943 he wakes up in 1905 in on the cruiser Nisshin just after the Battle of Tsushima and he uses his knowledge to prevent Japan making the mistakes it made.
  • The plot of Full Metal Panic centres around "The Whispered", people with Psychic Powers that allow them to receive information from the distant future. This is how they can have various bits of supertech, most notably Humongous Mecha, being built in an otherwise Present Day setting.
  • Madoka Magica:This is how Homura's Groundhog Day Loop ability seems to work.
    • Though the fact that she wakes up with her Soul Gem in her hand shows us that her time travel isn't wholly mental, since she didn't have any such thing in the original timeline.
      • Hard to imagine it could work without her soul coming with her.
  • The Time Leap machine in Steins;Gate allows for this.


Comics

  • In the original "Days of Future Past" storyline in X-Men, Kitty Pryde travels back in time by switching minds with her younger self.
  • Alex Robinson's graphic novella Too Cool To Be Forgotten has the main character Andy Wicks relive a portion of his high school years during hypnotherapy.
  • Professor Carter Nichols invented "time-travel hypnosis" in Golden Age and Silver Age Batman stories, although the stories were always vague as to whether the subject actually travelled in time or not. He inevitably returned in Grant Morrisons Batman.
  • Dr. Manhattan of Watchmen perceives all moments of his life simultaneously, though his ability to comprehend the full story they form seems to be limited. He also claims that he can't change the events he observes: "I'm just a puppet who can see the strings."


Fanfiction

  • Star Wars fics involving time travel are surprisingly common, and a high percentage of them involve various characters being sent back to Set Right What Once Went Wrong after dying.
  • TONS of Neon Genesis Evangelion fanfics use this trope. Usually Shinji is the one who goes back from the time of Third Impact and goes on to prevent it without alerting NERV's higher-ups (e.g. Misato, Ritsuko and his father).
    • There is one fic where Shinji discovers that not only the other pilots are parts of the rewinds too (humorously shown when he and Rei abuse the rewinds for training while Asuka ends up face first in a door every time a rewind occurs), he can rewind at any time by killing himself. It eventually desensitizes him to the prospect of death so much that even Asuka is freaked out.
  • A remarkably high percentage of AU fics for Harry Potter are like this. Usually it's Harry that does the rewind, sometimes the 'Golden Trio', occasionally Ginny to mix things up, and at least once it was the Trio, Ginny, Neville, Luna, Sirius, and Lupin, and maybe a few more in addition.
    • After the seventh book there were fanfics with Snape going back to the "Snape's Worst Memory" scene right after his death. Usually with the purpose of him getting the girl.


Films

  • Groundhog Day
  • The Butterfly Effect
  • Click, traveling into the future instead of the past.
  • Galaxy Quest featured the Omega 13, a machine that sets the universe back 13 seconds ("just enough time to correct one mistake") while allowing a particular person to keep his or her memories.
  • Retroactive has a machine that reverses time for a set period up to an hour while allowing one or more people to keep their memories. It also preserves the video on a VHS tape at one point.
  • Peggy Sue Got Married
  • The ending of Jumanji. Also done at the end of its Spiritual Successor Zathura, though less notable because in the latter case the game was finished on the same day it began.
  • Thirteen Going On Thirty
  • In His Father's Shoes features a pair of magical shoes from a gypsy, which allow Clay Crosby to go back in time -- and briefly experience life as his father, Frank, when he was Clay's age.
  • Similar to Quantum Leap, the girl in the film Split Infinity doesn't go back to a younger or older version of herself, but to a different person, her late great aunt. A.J. Knowlton's time travel method? She fell out of a hayloft to go back to 1929, and rode a homemade amusement park to get back to 1992. One that a bunch of kids had ridden earlier. One may assume that Sam prefers the technological route....
    • This was a Feature Films for Families movie which was published on VHS in 1992,it was based on a short story published by a high school student in 1990 which was later adapted into this film.
  • Somewhere in Time
  • La Jetee employs a form of this, with the time travellers going to periods on their memories (but they don't go to their past bodies).
  • The titular Hot Tub Time Machine works like this except for Clark Duke's character whom was concieved on the night the group travels to.
  • In the movie Next, Nicholas Cage's character has a power somewhat like this. He has two minute long precognition, but what he sees are merely possible futures. It's difficult to explain but a few examples should do a trick. He 'tried out' different approaches when hitting on a girl. He saw that casually beating up the girl's stalker ex boyfriend (who was present at the time) would prompt the girl to just walk away, but letting the guy punch him in the face would win the girl's sympathy, so he let this happen. He can also dodge bullets or search a huge area in almost no time using his ability.
  • In the movie Source Code, Jake Gyllenhaal's character performs a virtual version of this, taking over the body of an anonymous, doomed man in a simulation of the minutes before his death in an attempt to find out who planted the bomb that doomed him.
  • Santo En El Tesoro De Dracula features an odd variant. The movie's heroine, Luisa, travels back in time to 19th century Mexico, where she inhabits the body of a young woman (identical, from the audience's perspective). But the details are a bit muddled - for example, her body seems to disappear from "the present."
  • In "Trancers" both the bad guy and the cop chasing him go back in time, but must inhabit the bodies of distant ancestors. This movie also has people killed in the past with their "present day" descendants vanishing - but are still remembered.


Literature

  • Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
  • Timequake, also by Vonnegut, features the entire world -- and, it's implied, the entire universe -- being mentally sent back 10 years and completely unable to change anything until that period is over.
  • Replay, by Ken Grimwood.
  • The Time of Achamoth by M.K. Joseph.
  • The Power of Un: A boy meets a mysterious stranger who hands him a giant calculator-like thing and says it's for going back in time and making sure that -- wait, dang it, the guy disappeared before he quite finished the instructions. And the boy isn't impressed by the odd machine. But his flippant attitude turns serious when his little sister ends up getting hit by a truck, and he figures out how to use the device to replay the day so he can save her. Of course, it's not that easy...
  • H.P. Lovecraft's The Shadow Out of Time twists this trope by combining it with Grand Theft Me in a very Fridge Logic-appeasing way.
  • Time and Again by Jack Finney, and its sequel Time After Time. Born in the Wrong Century, the protagonist goes back in time mentally by imagining himself to be in The Gay Nineties and surrounding himself with items from that period until he becomes temporally dislocated. Partly averted in that he does not travel back into his own memories, but that of an alternate self.
  • The plot of R.L. Stine's Goosebumps novel The Cuckoo Clock of Doom is based around a cuckoo clock which causes this to happen to the protagonist.
  • in Eric Nylund's A Game of Universe, Germain possesses a powerful bit of magic that can rewind time, but only for seven seconds (and it can only be used once).
  • Terry Pratchett's Thief of Time has an entire species who use this ability regularly: "The Yeti is able to save its time at a certain point, and then venture forth knowing that if it dies, it can just resume its life from the point it saved at with the knowledge it acquired before death. It is effectively a highly evolved, albeit slightly painful form of foretelling." This is, in all likelihood, a direct reference to saving in video games.
  • This is how Charles Wallace time travels in A Swiftly Tilting Planet: he is able to enter the minds of people in the past and, though he has very little control over what they do, he still influences them in tiny ways. The fact that he has a time-traveling unicorn helps a lot.
  • "Unsound Variations", a short story by George R.R. Martin has an antagonist who utilises this repeatedly and obsessively to wreck/steal the successes of his former college buddies.
  • Used by Tolkien in The Notion Club Papers, combined with mental space travel (astral projection). The effects of time passing at a much more rapid rate means that the traveller in question looks down on what he initially thinks to be some sort of fetid anthill, but turns out to be his home city of Oxford through the ages...
  • The book A Gift of Magic by Lois Duncan has the main character who has (among other things) to look into the future. It comes in handy, because her grandmother had the exact same set of powers, and left the main character a message on the day she died.
  • H. Beam Piper's first published story (1947), "Time and Time Again" (no relation to Jack Finney's book): The main character, dying in World War III in 1975, awoke in his thirteen-year-old body in 1945. Being a trained chemist with the scientific knowledge of 1975, he'd have an advantage going into the chemical industry; he also had quite a good memory for horse-race winners. He planned to build a fortune and use it to prevent the war he'd died in by, among other things, getting his father elected president in 1960. Two of Piper's later stories, set in the '60s, imply that he was successful in that part, at least.

 "All right, son, I'll do just what you tell me, and when you grow up, I'll be president...."

  • In the Suzumiya Haruhi novels, this is true for Yuki Nagato and only for Yuki Nagato. In the Groundhog Day Loop short story Endless Eight, everyone's memories get reset, although they start experiencing déjà vu. Apparently, Yuki is not affected by this because time is not an obstacle for her.
  • For King And Country, by Robert Asprin and Linda Evans, features what seems to be a Terminator Twosome of an IRA agent traveling back to Arthurian times to change history in Ireland's favor or simply punish England, and a British soldier trying to stop it. They go all the way back to around 500 AD or so and share the bodies of people close to King Arthur. It seems like a Stable Time Loop and/or Tricked-Out Time, but the ending is a little ambiguous. Meanwhile in the Future, their bodies remain in a comatose state while they are in the past.
  • In Cube with Faceted Edges, this is the only possible method of Time Travel. Originally used exclusively by the special forces-like Harders with brain implants called Iscapes, which throw their consciousness back a few seconds at the moment of death (how death is determined is not clear). To an outsider, it looks like a Harder is impossible to kill, as they look like they can dodge bullets and have a sixth sense. In reality, the Harders are just using the foreknowledge to avoid the same deadly outcome. Later on, a rival organization obtains an Iscape and builds a similar-functioning device that works by thinking of the time you want to go back to. This is one-way, however, as the timeline is changed by this action. They then start selling the devices to the general public and eliminating anyone who tries to investigate them (easy when you can always go back to fix a mistake). The knowledge of the original timeline quickly fades if any changes are made.
    • The protagonist (a Harder) starts suspecting the existence of these bootleg devices when a space liner explodes. While it looks like a typical malfunction (and it is), he does find it strange that a full third of the passengers have cancelled their tickets several days before boarding. It turns out they all have these devices.
      • He also finds out that a Harder was on the same flight but managed to survive. The Harder reveals that he spent countless iterations trying to stop the explosion. Eventually, though, his traumatized mind forced him to board an Escape Pod moments before the explosion. He ends up having his Iscape removed and committing suicide.
  • In Sergey Lukyanenko's A Lord From Planet Earth, the main character finds himself on an alien planet in the middle of an invasion. He is given a pair of Seeder artifacts with an unknown function. During the first confrontation with the Big Bad, one of his new friends is brutally killed, and the Big Bad is an inch away from slicing the protagonist open. In desperation, he breaks one of the pencil-shaped crystals and time freezes, while he hears a voice telling him of a "temporal event" of some sort. He then finds himself several hours prior with full knowledge of things to come. The only difference is he only has one artifact left. He also finds that it's pretty difficult to try to change things, as the universe keeps trying to maintain continuity. He does manage to save his friend (twice, by using the other crystal) and alter the final fight with the villain to strike him while the Big Bad is moving in for the kill. Also, physical time travel is possible as well.
  • We Are Tam by Patricia Bernard features a form of mental time travel that allows a person to visit other times if somebody in that time period is their genetic double.
  • Sherman Alexie's novel Flight has the protagonist inhabiting various people's bodies, ranging in time from the Indian wars to present day.
  • In Eric Norden's novella The Primal Solution, an elderly Jewish scientist - a Holocaust survivor who had lost his entire family - discovers a means of mental time travel, which enables him to project his mind into the past and take over the body of the young Adolf Hitler in the Vienna of the early 1910s. Resolved to force Hitler into suicide, the vengeful professor can't resist humiliating him first and forcing him to drink sewer water in front of surprised passersby, before making him jump into the Danube - but in the moment before drowning, Hitler regains control of his body and returns home shaken. The Professor is trapped inside Hitler's mind, but is able to "hear" him think "The Jews? Why did the Jews do this to me? I have never harmed them!". Able to access Hitler's memories, the trapped Professor suddenly realizes that until this moment the young Hitler had not at all been an anti-Semite and was in fact on good terms with some Jews. Only because something inexplicable had entered Hitler's mind - something which totally hated him and was implacably bent on his destruction, and which identified itself as being Jewish and acting on behalf of all Jews - did he become the genocidal Hitler known to history. Never daring to tell anybody of this presence in his mind, for fear of being considered insane, Hitler would gradually develop the idea that only by killing all Jews would he be free of that haunting presence. In short, the very act intended to avert the Holocaust ends up being its direct cause.
  • Used by Allan Quatermain to visit past lives in The Ancient Allan and Allan and the Ice Gods.

Live Action TV

  • Quantum Leap is a variation, where the protagonist time-travels into other people's lives. In the episode "The Leap Home, Part 1," though, Sam did leap into his sixteen-year-old self. He was distressed to find out that he wasn't allowed to help his own family with his knowledge of their futures, and that when he tried to do so, they just thought he was crazy.
  • Tru Calling
  • Do Over, a short-lived 2002 sitcom about a man reliving his school years.
  • That Was Then, a short-lived 2002 drama about a man reliving his school years.
  • Odyssey 5, a short-lived 2002 (notice a pattern?) sci-fi series about a group of astronauts who witness the Earth exploding while on a mission, and are sent back 5 years by a Sufficiently Advanced Alien in order to prevent it.
  • The Eureka season 1 finale, and the first half of the Groundhog Day Loop episode "I Do Again."
    • Later one, they introduce physical time travel.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation, "All Good Things"
    • Also "Tapestry".
  • Lost has a few characters that become Unstuck in Time. The most notable example is Desmond, whose consciousness keeps jumping back and forth between 1996 and 2004.
    • This one is also unique, because unlike normal (when we follow someone who jumps back into their life) we're following Desmond's 1996 self as he jumps into his 2004 self and back.
    • And then all of the survivors on the island become unstuck. Good for them. However, this version was physical time travel, not mental.
      • Except for Charlotte before she dies. Her last words to Daniel are her first words to him when she met him as a little girl. Yeah, I know.

 Charlotte: I'm not allowed to have chocolate before dinner.

  • Canadian comedy Being Erica is about a woman offered the chance by a supposed therapist to go back and change a long list of bad decisions that have led to her life being a dead end.
  • Similarly, Medium's protagonist will occasionally have this.
  • Though Series/{{Stargate SG-1)) usually goes the physical route, they had the obligatory Groundhog Day Loop episode with O'Neill and Teal'c which was entirely mental.
  • Star Trek: Voyager has an episode where Kes starts at the end of her life with no memories and progressively hops backwards through her life. The only consequence of this is to help the then present day Voyager avoid a deadly enemy. Other than that, its a giant Snap Back and Reset Button.
    • It also foreshadowed the upcoming "Year of Hell" storyline (which, at the time, was planned to last a full season.) Of course, Kes wasn't around when that storyline actually arrived in 2-parter form.
  • In Warehouse 13, H. G. Wells's Time Machine is a pair of armchairs with headbands and some electrical contraption. It works by sending the (up to 2) users' consciousness back in time into specific bodies for no more than 22 hours 10 minutes, during which time the owners of the bodies in the past black out. Helena mentions that the machine makes use of the gestalt phenomenon. Also, since changing the past is virtually impossible, time travel poses no risk to the body owners (unless they were meant to die during this time). The time travelers, however, run the risk of being lost in the ether, never finding their way back. The machine was only used three times. In fact, all uses happened due to Stable Time Loops. HG knew she was somehow there the night of her daughter's death by the killer's description of another person's fighting style. Apparently, no other Westerner at that time knew kempo. Pete and Myka travel back because of a recording they made to themselves in the past. Rebecca needed to go back to initiate her relationship with Jack. Unfortunately, she does not make it back.
  • Curtis' power in Misfits is to mentally travel back to before something he feels guilty about. While this is problematic when he's trying to break up with his girlfriend and keeps feeling guilty about it, it's certainly one of the more useful powers.
  • Kamen Rider Double gives an interesting twist on this with the Yesterday Dopant, whose power causes people to do whatever they were doing exactly 24 hours ago because they think they're doing it right now. This is demonstrated first when it causes a man to leap to his death by making him think he's diving into his swimming pool; later on, it sets up a fight with the hero so that his actions can be used to attack someone the Dopant wants to murder.
  • An episode of Charmed has Paige going back into her younger self to re-live the day her adoptive parents died.
    • An earlier episode had Phoebe switching places with her past self, an evil witch in the 1920s.


Tabletop Games


Theater


Video Games

  • This is your primary power as a titular achron in Achron. Do note that all other players can do this too, so be prepared for some very interesting multiplayer battles...
  • Save Scumming in probably the closest thing to a Real Life example
  • The second Prince of Persia trilogy allows you to rewind up to ten seconds. Near the end of The Sands of Time, the Prince uses it to kiss a girl without her knowing it.
    • Ten seconds? Right before the end, the Prince rewinds time all the way to prior the start of the game.
    • Warrior Within also has physical time travel.
  • In The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time, Link can use the Master Sword to travel back and forth between his child and adult selves. Unusually for this trope, despite not actually physically travelling anywhere, he still managed to create two alternate branched-off timelines in the process.
  • In Final Fantasy VIII, Ellone has the power to make people mentally time travel into other people's bodies. It happens to the playable characters a few times in the game.
  • When the party goes to Shion's ruined home planet Miltia in the third episode of Xenosaga, it is revealed that the recurrence of the disaster is entirely mental and similar to an encephalon dive.
  • Many modern racing games have a Rewind feature that similar to the Dagger of Time in the Prince of Persia series, allows you to rewind time for a few seconds to correct a crash or bad turn and thus be less punishing on the player.
  • In Second Sight, there are moments where the psychic player character, John Vattic has flashbacks that allow him to change events in the past which in turn alter the present (for example, saving the life of someone who had died). Brilliantly subverted when it is revealed that you're not traveling to the past at all. The "past" is actually the present and the "present" is actually Vattic seeing into the future.
  • Braid's rewind feature.
  • Radiant Historia involves you jumping through time to points where you already existed. While your body technically still ages as you go through time, you replace the "you" that would've been in that moment of time, so that paradoxes are avoided.
  • One ending of Shadow Hearts: Covenant sends Yuri back to the beginning of the first game looking exactly like he did in the original's opening cinematic, but apparently with all his memories of the future, while the other heroes are shuffled through time the regular way.
  • In the Visual Novel Yo-Jin-Bo, the protagonist ended up traveling through time via a magical pendant and put her in a body of a princess.
  • In Nine Hours Nine Persons Nine Doors, June/Akane Kurashiki has this ability, and can in fact explore multiple possibilities. All the game's Multiple Endings are essentially just her Save Scumming in the future, trying to find the sequence of events that leads to her own life being saved in the past/present.
  • The astral projection ability in Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse could be explained this way.


Web Comics

  • Narbonic has "Dave Davenport Is Unstuck on Time" (a Shout-Out to Slaughterhouse-Five), with Dave bouncing between childhood, middle age, and his teenage years. At first, it seems like he wasn't able to change anything; he angsts, and decides to have a cigarette. Then Mell asks, "Since when do you smoke?"
  • Bob and George, "All Good Things" (a Shout-Out to the Star Trek episode).
  • The "rewind device" in City of Reality uses this method to allow characters, in the story, to retry their actions until they get them right.
  • Othar Tryggvassen's twitter adventures had this at one point. Quite a Tear Jerker, too.
  • In The Dreamer, Beatrice travels back in time to the The American Revolution when she's asleep.


Web Original

  • In Spes Phthisica, this is all that is possible. Information (in the form of dreams, images, messages...) can travel back in time, but not physical objects.


Western Animation

  • Code Lyoko's Returns to the Past.
    • Although Jérémie retaining a picture taken before one of them caused massive speculation among the fanbase.
    • Also the fact that it can't retcon out someone's death.
  • South Park lampshades this with Eric trying to induce a temporal coma so he can travel back into the past and learn about the Founding Fathers. By dropping weights onto his head.
    • Notably, this averts the limit to one's own life; apparently, a Cartman-body just magically generated in the past when Cartman's mind needed it. (Or it was All Just a Dream, the episode was kind of ambiguous.)
    • This is also how the "Go God Go!" two-parter ended, with Cartman (having been stuck in the far future) being transferred back in time to "fuse with his past self."

 Blavius the Talking Sea Otter: Don't worry, my son. When you return to your time you will merge with your other self. It's all very Zen.

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