Double Consciousness

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
"All the furniture that made up the way I'd thought and felt about things all my life started coming loose in my head. Nowadays it slides around and breaks into pieces and I have no idea what parts of it are real and what aren't. It hurts, and a lot of the time I don't know who I am anymore."

People sometimes have trouble defining who they truly are. Factors such as race, gender, culture, country origin, sexuality and occupation can all play a role in a person's identity. But when these things come into conflict with one another, a person may feel as if they are torn inside. They may feel as if they have two separate identities, or that their identity is divided into multiple facets.

Characters in fiction are no different. They too can sometimes suffer from a clash of identities. The superhero for example that must live double lives; one as a hero and the other as a normal citizen.

This might also result from usage of certain Applied Phlebotinum. If you've got Brain Uploading, Brainwashing, Mind Control, Alternate Universes or Time Travel, it can cause a lot of different thoughts, people, and even lives washing through your head. It can be difficult to sort out.

This term was coined by W.E.B DuBois in The Souls of Black Folk. He used it in reference to African-Americans who struggle between the identities of being both American and Black.

Compare Secret Identity Identity, Living a Double Life. In extreme cases this can lead to Split Personality. See also Doublethink.

Examples of Double Consciousness include:


  • Kallen suffers from this in Code Geass, being half-Japanese half-Britannian, part of Japan's freedom fighters, and passing as a full-blooded Britannian in society.
    • Lelouch's relationship with Nunnally means that he doesn't suffer from this as much as other characters with dual identities, since he had decided right from the start that his role as Zero was only a means to an end, (that end being Nunnally's happiness,) and so even though it was difficult to juggle both his lives, he did not suffer from too many emotional conflicts at first. This starts to change when he finds out that Zero killed his love interest's father, and he considers giving up but ultimately keeps going, and gets tested even more severely when Nunnally becomes viceroy of Japan, putting Zero in direct opposition to her, but by this point he can't bring himself to abandon everyone depending on Zero, and is seriously internally conflicted as a result.
  • Please Save My Earth has the scientists watching the earth being reincarnated into Japanese students. They all worry at some point about their previous actions or what will become of their now-selves. Issei is the reborn Enju who was in love with Jinpachi and falls in love with his best friend again, Alice is so afraid that she'll lose herself that she blocks her memories as Mokuren for most of the manga, Daisuke still feels responsible for his actions on the moon and Rin has to fight with the awakened Shion inside of him.

Comic Books

  • Superman has two identities. One as the famed hero of Earth, and the other as the mild-mannered news reporter Clark Kent. Some works also explore the Kal-El side, for a total of three.
    • Grant Morrison has stated that he believes Superman's three identities are The World's Greatest Hero, The Mild Mannered Reporter and the simple farm boy, with the latter being his real personality.
  • Bruce Banner
    • More than two. Bruce, Savage Hulk (the one everyone knows), Professor/Merged Hulk, Green Scar, Joe Fixit... Banner is a screwed up guy.
  • A unique meta version occurs in the graphic novel American Born Chinese. The story begins with separate plot threads for Chinese Jin and American Danny. When Jin wishes to become Americanized, he turns into Danny, causing the reader to re-evaluate Danny's earlier exploits.
  • Billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne is a completely different identity than crime fighting Badass Normal Batman. Which one is the real identity and which is the facade, however, depends from writer to writer. Then there's the suggestion that, like Superman, Batman has three identities: the Playboy, the Dark Knight, and the 'real' Bruce.
    • In Batman Beyond, he states that inside his head, he doesn't call himself Bruce anymore.
  • Shade the Changing Man described this after the Angels returned him to Earth unpredictably deranged, claiming they had 'stolen his ballast', and that he no longer knew who he was from moment to moment. The rebirth had integrated multiple facets of his personality, some previously repressed, and some that weren't even his. At least his Wangst episodes became briefer and more varied.


  • Dana in Octavia Butler's Kindred is a 1970s black woman transported back to the antebellum south, where she has to masquerade as a slave, causing a lot of conflict between her 'liberated' self and the demeanor she has to adopt to survive as a slave.
  • Tobias from Animorphs, who is trapped in hawk morph for good, often feels a clash between his identity as a human boy and as a bird. It gets even more complicated when he discovers that his father is Elfangor, an Andalite in natural form.
    • Also, morphing causes a natural clash of identities, as the morpher must struggle to maintain their identity against the animal's instincts. The only time the team ever morphed into termites, they immediately lost themselves in the termite Hive Mind, and only broke free when Cassie managed to take control long enough to kill the queen.
    • Since the main villains of the series are Puppeteer Parasites, this also comes up with Visser One and Taylor. The former was the first long-term Human-Controller, along with an assistant, and discovered that Humanity Is Infectious, especially when the two had twins through their human hosts. Meanwhile, Taylor the Yeerk cannot differentiate between herself and her human host as easily as most Controllers, causing (or caused by?) her and possibly both of them becoming insane.
    • Another notable example is Cassie/Aldrea in "The Prophecy", although that involved phebotinum in the form of Aldrea's ghost or ixcilla being put into Cassie.
  • Possibly Dexter Morgan, who for obvious reasons must keep his more squishy hobbies out of the public eye. He also works for the cops as a crime scene analyst.
  • This trope is all over Invisible Man, in which the main character is an African-American. However, he's not torn between African and American, but between acting out white stereotypes and rebelling against those stereotypes.
  • Gara Petothel, when she becomes Lara Notsil, starts to feel this. Previously she'd become many roles and shed them, as she was trained to do, without a qualm. But this time she had no handler, and she cracked, realizing that something was very, very wrong with her.
  • Nearly every character in The Regeneration Trilogy experiences this trope. Rivers is a psychologist who also trained as an ethnologist, and he often finds himself stepping beyond the role of a therapist into the role of a father for his patients. Sassoon is a brave, charismatic lieutenant who does a great job getting his men to kill Germans. He also strongly opposes the war and has many pacifist friends, although he doesn't consider himself one. Prior is bisexual, with all the attendant conflicts in a paranoid wartime society. He's also a lieutenant and government worker from a working-class background, who probably wouldn't have risen that far in peacetime, and he knows it. And that's without getting into the Split Personality.
  • Young Garak in A Stitch in Time, caught between two cultures; the mainstream disciplined Cardassia (which is promoted by his mother and Enabran Tain), and an ancient Hebitian religion, the Oralian Way, represented by Tolan. Garak feels drawn to the latter, but cannot escape entanglement in the former. His attempt to resolve his Double Consciousness will last him the rest of his life. Mila acknowledges the struggle in the quote below, when attempting to keep Garak focused on the realities of modern Cardassia:

"You are my son and you are a Cardassian. Not a Hebitian!"

  • Another Cardassian in the Star Trek Deep Space Nine Relaunch: Rugal Pa'Dar. He's a Cardassian who is Bajoran who is a Cardassian who is part of the Federation. After being raised on Bajor, he's returned to his original home on Cardassia in his mid-teens (as seen in the TV episode "Cardassians"). While insisting at first he's still Bajoran, he comes to accept his Cardassian identity too, and ends up taking on a third when he joins the Federation. In the end, he's just concerned with being himself - whatever that may be.
  • Miles Vorkosigan, split between his identities as Lord Vorkosigan of Barrayar and Admiral Naismith of the Dendarii Mercenaries.
  • Happens quite a bit to George Orr, protagonist of Ursula K. Le Guin's The Lathe of Heaven, because he can re-shape reality by dreaming. He remembers all the old versions of reality that have accumulated, and sometimes has trouble keeping them straight.

Live Action TV

  • Characters of mixed species often feel this way. Spock, for example.
  • Buffy has the superhero split. She says to her date when duty calls (paraphrased) "You know how I said I felt like two different people. Well one of them has to go, but the other is having a wonderful time and will be right back". Later, when a demon plots to split her into separate human and slayer versions, she asks boyfriend Riley if he wishes he could be rid of Slayer Buffy and just have Buffy Buffy. His reply is comforting but not convincing to her: "I have Buffy Buffy... There's no part of you I'm not in love with".
  • Amy Pond from Doctor Who remembers two different versions of her life according to her actress. In series 6, she has a triple consciousness, where she remembers the collapsing timeline stuck on 5:02pm, where Amy was an agent that killed Kovarian.
    • Her husband, Rory Williams, also has a Double Consciousness, having memories of being both the ordinary nurse Rory Williams, and the 2,000-year-old Last Centurion from the universe of the Total Event Collapse. He has worked out how to keep the latter set of memories locked away in his mind most of the time, however, and only lets them out when he needs them. To terrify Cybermen.

Real Life

  • African-Americans and other minorities, immigrants, transgender people and many others often feel a double consciousness.
  • There's a movement among those with multiple personalities who identify not as one fractured person, but as several Sharing a Body (AKA a "multiple system").

Video Games

  • Diligent student. Loyal friend. Composed advisor. Tsubaki of BlazBlue was destined to develop a Double Consciousness the moment a certain character ordered her to execute her best friends for the crime of treason. While the series is ongoing, she seems to be slowly Becoming the Mask, burying all the sensitivity she exhibited in the first game under a frantic fighting style at odds with her personality.
  • The entire Persona series has this as a game mechanic and a theme.

Web Comics

  • Brelvis from Magellan - Brian Lonsdale, genetically blended in a transporter style experiment gone wrong with his pet dog Elvis, now refers to himself as Brelvis Lonsdog and has melded behaviours and combined human/dog words for certain people, objects and actions.
  • A magic mirror in Yet Another Fantasy Gamer Comic showcases the true self of whoever looks at it. But it changes every time someone looks at it. That is because the true self can be defined in many different and distinct ways.
  • "The Other" in Girl Genius at first seems to be susceptible to bad mood swings. However, after a while the very specific pattern emerges: she switches between two sub-personalities (in addition to being uploaded into Agatha's brain with the original mind intact and occasionally capable of suppressing the invader) when upset or without any obvious reason - quite distinct, since one of them is a wannabe charmer and another is straightforward and violent. It's not clear what caused this - may be a "mundane" insanity on top of Mad Scientist thing or "data corruption" from her mind transfer experiments.

Western Animation

  • Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender feels this way. It is amplified when he discovers he is the great-grandson of both Fire Lord Sozin and Roku, the Avatar's previous incarnation.
  • Dinobot and Tigatron from Beast Wars. The former struggles with his Predacon ideals versus his alliance with the Maximals. The latter identifies a little too much with his tiger side, which is purely artificial.
  • Shades of this trope appear in Geri's Game, one of the first Pixar Shorts. Playing chess with himself, the old man's personality seems to shift as he goes from playing white to playing black, and he reacts just as if he really were two people.