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When Reincarnation and Past Life Memories are presented as being real within the context of a story, It often works in a way similar to Genetic Memory, by giving the character knowledge and skills that they would otherwise be unlikely to gain for themselves. Past Life Memories often manifest as Dreaming of Times Gone By. On rarer occasions, an entire identity from a past incarnation my start to emerge, resulting in a Split Personality. Sometimes a character will undergo a Split Personality Merge, with their current identity combining with that of a previous incarnation, giving them complete access to the memories and skills of the previous incarnation and resulting in a major Level Up.
Of course, in other works, Reincarnation is presented as not being true, and claims to having memories from past lives are treated as a sign of eccentricity or even insanity. A character making a claim to having Past Life Memories still invokes this trope.
Real Life public figures that can be verified as making claims to experiencing Past Life Memories are acceptable examples, as long as it is clear that these are claims only and this is not the place to debate whether or not these beliefs have any foundation in reality. Troper Tales should not be included under the Real Life heading.
Compare Genetic Memory.
This is a spoiler trope, so expect unmarked spoilers ahead.
- Sailor Moon gains memories of her previous life as Princess Serenity
- Eclair from Kiddy Grade starts to remember her past lives after a few dodgy missions.
- Yu-Gi-Oh GX: Juudai remembered the vow he made in his past life to love only Yubel when he inflicts damage on her through her Duel Monsters avatar. It's implied strongly that remembering this vow also restores his love for her.
- Higurashi no Naku Koro ni: A major turning point for the characters is Keiichi remembering how he brutally murdered Rena and Mion in one of the previous iterations of the Groundhog Day Loop. Then things get significantly better.
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica: The outcome of the previous iteration in the Groundhog Day Loop flash in Madoka's dream. It's also seen in an earlier timeline, when she starts to recall Homura's name despite not having met her yet. Later, she gets a "mental static" during a certain event with Homura. Then things snowball into her Abstract Apotheosis.
- In the film version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it's said that each new Slayer is the same Slayer, reincarnated as long as there are vampires to fight, and Buffy has dreams of her past lives.
- In The Mummy Trilogy, the second film has Evy having flashes of insights and memories that make her think she's hallucinating. Turns out, they're memories of her past life from ancient Egypt.
- The film Dead Again has a hypnotist who specializes in Past Life Regression hypnotherapy of his subjects -- to help them overcome psychological obstacles, and to help him find and procure antiques they encountered in their previous lives. He even does it to the film's protagonsists.
- There's a film called Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.
- Patton. The title general claims that he remembers scenes from his past lives as a warrior. This was based on beliefs that have been attributed to the Real Life Patton.
- In The Wheel of Time many male channelers develop a form of insanity that results in a breakdown of the barriers between their past lives and their current life. For most, this results in simple insanity. However, Rand, who The Hero and The Chosen One of the series, is able to take advantage of knowledge and skills gained from his past life even as it is slowly driving him into a Split Personality insanity. Rand eventually undergoes a Split Personality Merge, causing him to gain all the memories and knowledge of his previous incarnation, making him much more powerful.
- Childe Cycle contains an example The Hero Donal Graeme first travels to the past to take over a dying body, and then reincarnates himself as an infant in the future. In each case, he starts out with no memory of his original life, then manefests a few memories, and eventually gains full knowledge of all of his lives.
- Cinderheart in Warrior Cats has memories of her past life as Cinderpelt, but she has only ever shown signs of remembering them in her dreams, or recalls her past life subconsciously; for example, Cinderpelt's former apprentice Leafpool notes Cinderheart flicks her paw in the same way Cinderpelt did, as well as another character once thinking she was acting Wise Beyond Her Years, and Cinderheart remembering the distance between the Great Sycamore and ThunderClan's camp in the Forest, even though she had been born after the Clans had left the Forest. Eventually - after a night of dreaming about Cinderpelt's life - she is told/realizes who she really is.
- In the Discworld novel Thief of Time, the abbot of the History Monks is a master of serial reincarnation, currently in the body of a toddler. He retains the wisdom of his years, but his speech is often interrupted by the demands of the child. "...Bikkit bikkit wanna bikkit. Unfortunately, young bodies have a mind of their own BIKKIT!"
- In one of the Thanksgiving episodes of Friends, Phoebe is asked what her worst Thanksgiving memory is. She recalls the time she was a nurse in World War One.
- In one episode of The X-Files the [Something] Of The Week claims that she and Mulder were lovers in a previous life during The American Civil War. He goes under hypnosis and seems to confirm it.
- The Reincarnation of Peter Proud. A man has nightmares about being murdered. He investigates and finds out that he was indeed murdered in a previous life. Later made into The Film of the Book.
- On Red Dwarf, Rimmer says that he once underwent hypnotic regression, and found out that in a past life he was Alexander the Great's chief eunuch.
- Exalted: The Spark of Exaltation (the godly thing that allows you to kick ass and chew bubblegum) attaches to the soul of its recipient, receiving the Exalt's memories in the progress. When an Exalt dies, the attached memory is normally removed by Lytek (the god of exaltation) because human souls aren't meant to house memories other than their own. However, the Sparks captured by the Yozis aren't purified this way, so a Green Sun Prince can draw upon the memories of the previous Exalt his or her spark is attached to, gaining sudden skill as a result. It has its dangers too: due to the potential depth and vastness of the tapped memories, the previous Exalt's personality might overwhelm the current, obviously-younger Green Sun Prince. An official example was a (male) Infernal letting go of an elder Sidereal instead of dealing the final blow, because that Sidereal was his/her husband in previous life. That's an override of gender, allegiance, and possibly sexual orientation.
- The Nameless One can do this in Planescape: Torment.
- In Silent Hill 3, Heather occasionally has Alessa's memories, even before she discovers she is her reincarnation. Some of the memories might also be Cheryl's.
- A major plot point in Tales of Innocence.
- Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga deals with this, although more prominently in the second game. To wit, in the first game, Gale has continuous flashbacks to a weeping woman. He initially chooses to use Emotion Suppression to deal with it, but eventually is forced to confront the memory. Later, it's revealed it's the last memory of the man whose personality Gale was constructed. The Four Archangels are a much weirder example - they're victims of the Demon Virus, who apparently have had their personalities obliterated by it and replaced by the consciousnesses of the Archangels Uriel, Raphael, Gabriel and Michael. The problem? All four make comments related to experiences the Archangels had in Shin Megami Tensei II, which apparently took place in another universe.
- Touhou: For Hieda-no-Akyu, it's one part this and one part Genetic Memory, as she constantly reincarnates into her own bloodline (like certain figures in Real Life religions).
- El Goonish Shive: Actually "Parallel Life Memories". Ellen was given memories of a version of herself from another universe to alleviate the stress of being an Opposite Sex Clone and, supposedly, prevent her from going insane due to how souls work. She gained great singing skill from this, as well as the experience of losing her virginity. She is still technically a virgin in the main universe, though.
- In the Exalted fancomic Keychain of Creation Misho Thrice-Radiant, a Solar, recalls his past life with perfect clarity due to taking both the "past life memory" and "eidetic memory" perks. However, for some reason he cannot recall anything of his current life before exaltation.
- In the Daria episode "Psycho Therapy", Quinn accidentally got hypnotized and dream that she was Cleopatra who was famous for inventing eyeliner.
- ↑ kung fu ninja who controls fate