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For the similar mechanical system in Amnesia: Rebirth representing the player character's soundness of mind, see Fear.

Levels of sanity.

Sanity is a mechanic in Amnesia: The Dark Descent and its DLC Amnesia: Justine, which represents Daniel's and Justine's mental condition, respectively. Staying in the darkness, witnessing disturbing events, or staring at enemies will drain sanity. In other words, fearful and disturbing sights will frighten the character to the point where they lose their mind and rational thinking. Justine's sanity is only affected by staring at enemies and her final tread through the crypt.

The lower sanity goes, the more disturbing, surreal, and dangerous the environment seemingly becomes. The loss of sanity is detrimental, but inevitable, as some unavoidable scripted sequences cause sanity to drop. The same concept applies when the player must hide in the dark to not be seen by enemies, as the dark also lowers sanity. In Hard Mode, dropping to zero sanity results in death.

Presence in Amnesia[]

Sanity in The Dark Descent[]

Sanity is a main mechanic in Amnesia: The Dark Descent, presented through the "Sanity Meter." In the game, sanity starts high, but decreases through multiple stages, conveyed to the player as four distinct levels of sanity retention. The player is tasked with largely retaining the sanity Daniel already has—rather than with reliable, proactive methods of gaining it—a design choice common in survival horror games, where disempowerment and scarce resources are thought to encourage emotions of anxiety and fear in fear, which tends to produce cautious gameplay desirable in a slow adventure game.[1]

Level 0 is called "Crystal Clear." This is the highest level of sanity, and the one seen the least. Level 1 is described as "A slight headache." This one can happen the easiest, as merely staying in the dark a little too long or staring at a monster quickly decreases sanity. Next, level 3 is conveyed by the description "Head is pounding and hands are shaking." This level takes a bit longer to set in, but still can happen quickly.

Finally, level 4, for which the only description given is "...[sic]", is no longer sanity, but rather representing insanity.[Clarify. Is this rhetorical?] At this point, Daniel's vision distorts, and he starts to hallucinate Gatherers. However, these hallucinations are only designed to scare the player and cannot deal damage. In Hard mode, reaching zero sanity results in death.

Sanity in A Machine for Pigs[]

Sanity is completely removed in Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs—possibly explained by Oswald Mandus's greater mental stability compared to the two previous protagonists—so being in darkness, witnessing disturbing events, and looking at monsters have no detrimental effects.

Sanity in Rebirth[]

Sanity returns once again in Amnesia: Rebirth, though it simply goes by "Fear" in the game. The game's protagonist, Tasi Trianon experiences effects similar to Daniel's upon standing in darkness, witnessing disturbing events, and viewing mutilated human corpses and monsters. Additionally, this mechanic also acts as a health system as well, as accumulating too much Fear will cause Tasi to succumb into her ghoulish mutation.

Sanity in The Bunker[]

Sanity no longer appears in Amnesia: The Bunker, which may be explained in part by Henri Clément being already used to the bloodshed and destruction of World War I. As a result, staying in the dark for an extended period of time or witnessing mutilated corpses won't have any effect on the player's sanity. However, looking at the Beast for too long can temporarily induce a similar blurring effect on Henri's eyesight, although it doesn't have any lasting impact on his mental condition.


Daniel's and Justine's mental condition can be observed by bringing up the inventory screen. Sanity is divided into four levels and has a glowing colour associated with each level: green, yellow, orange and red, which is respectively related from most to least sane, which are the following:

Amount Text
100-75 Crystal clear.
74-50 A slight headache.
49-25 Head is pounding and hands are shaking.
24-0 ...

Sanity can be recovered by solving puzzles and progressing through the game, or by taking Sanity Potions. Standing in lit areas regenerates sanity to a maximum of 51, as long as there are not any sources of sanity drain present. High levels of sanity will grant the ability to see enemies glowing in the dark. The last two stages of sanity will cause Daniel's and Justine's vision to have a dragging blur effect and disorienting warping. Dropping to 0 sanity will result in Daniel/Justine falling down onto the ground while a ringing noise plays. This alerts nearby enemies and prevents movement for a while. After a couple of seconds, Daniel/Justine will get up and their sanity will be restored to 37. However, in Hard Mode for Amnesia: The Dark Descent, this will instead result in death.

In Amnesia: Rebirth, levels of sanity do not work in the same way as in The Dark Descent. Once the player stops standing in darkness and/or looking at disturbing events or monsters, mental stability is fully restored.


SanityWarp Anim1

Screen warping effect, a lasting effect of low sanity.

There are visual and audible events that can occur sometimes to give the player a hint of sanity changes, assuming the player has all types of video effects enabled in their options.

Sanity loss[]

  • Screen warping/zooming in and out while hearing grinding sounds. (Standing in darkness)
  • Screen doing a vertical outward stretch then returning to normal, with a wind-like noise. (Witnessing a sudden disturbing event)
  • Center of the screen zooms outward as the edges are pulled inward. (Staring at enemies)
  • Shockwave ripples the screen and Daniel gasps in fear. (When the Shadow roars at him making progress, or Alexander psychically assaults his mind)
  • The screen suddenly fades to black, sounds are heard, then Daniel's vision is restored. (Some scripted/disturbing events or in the event of injecting vaccinated blood into himself)
  • The screen will distort and shake if any of the torture devices Daniel can interact with are used. If Daniel repeatedly touches the two Octagram seals that require his blood in the Inner Sanctum, his sanity will quickly deplete, and he'll temporarily collapse.
  • Edges of screen zoom in while a noise sounding like a distorted church bell is heard. (Standing in the corpse-filled rooms in the Morgue or the torture rooms in the Transept and Choir)
  • The screen shakes violently at different angles, with a gasp being heard. (When the torch ignites itself in the Storage)

Sanity gain[]

  • Screen giving a blue flash while an exhale sound is heard. (Completing a puzzle, finding an item, or using a Sanity Potion)
  • Staying in the light radius of a light source (sanity may even rise to "A slight headache" if one waits long enough). The closer the light source, the faster the increase.
  • Turning on the lantern. (Typically, that's enough to stop the teeth's chattering and hallucinated cockroaches to fly away)
  • Making progress by simply exploring further into a new area. (Provided Daniel does not witness unsettling events while doing so)
  • Obtaining all four chemicals in the Wine Cellar. (Sanity is fully replenished)
  • Obtaining all the Orb pieces in the Transept and the Choir. (Sanity is fully replenished)
  • Entering certain "safe" rooms. (Example: Sanity is restored to full upon entering the Cistern Entrance and other hub levels)

Low Sanity[]

SanityWarp Anim2

Another example of the screen warping effect, an effect of low sanity.

When Daniel or Justine reaches the lowest ("...") level of sanity, their vision is very warped and their breathing is panicky and erratic. Should any further substantial sanity loss occur, their vision will become blurry.

If sanity is fully depleted, the player character will collapse on the ground and crawl for several seconds, accompanied by a continuous high-pitched whine. Any enemies present will be alerted instantly,[2] causing them to enter a searching state.[3] Eventually, the player character will stand up again, their sanity returning to "Head is pounding and hands are shaking". They will be slowed and unable to run or crouch for a brief time. On Hard mode, the player will die instead of collapsing.

If Daniel is in a low sanity state for some time, he will hallucinate. He will begin to hear disturbing, non-existent sounds, such as various kinds of footsteps and a baby crying.[Confirm that these specific sounds are actually heard at low sanity]

Daniel can also hallucinate enemies, and both characters can see cockroaches crawling or flies buzzing on the screen. On rare occasions, doors approached by Daniel will slam shut in front of him, giving a startling jump-scare.

When Daniel reaches the sanity state of "Head is pounding and hands are shaking" and worse, various aspects of the game will appear different, such as:

Jesuspainting sanity

A painting of Jesus Christ, dependent on sanity levels. The right being low sanity.

  • Alexander's portraits, among other paintings, will change into horribly distorted ones, such as faces being replaced with skulls, the sky turning an ominous orange, and silhouettes of hanging corpses.
  • Dead bodies will appear hanging from the ceiling in the Choir Entrance.
  • A cage in the Transept will contain a corpse.
  • The large stairway in the Nave will be covered by Spiders.
  • A corpse will be leaning against the pillar in the Cistern Entrance.


While some causes and effects of sanity change are hinted at in-game, most specific reasons behind this go unexplained, which sometimes confuses players. The hints about sanity loss and gain can only be seen if the player has said hints enabled via options.

Sanity loss[]


Staring at enemies will easily decrease your sanity. Try to avoid looking at them if you want to progress through the game more smoothly.

Because sanity drains when witnessing disturbing events, standing in the darkness, and staring at enemies, it can be surmised that the key factor is fear. As sanity drains, the player's vision and perception of reality diminishes more and more, as well as delaying motor functions, showing that the fear gets the best of the player character to a point where simple body control becomes cumbersome.

Daniel's crippling nyctophobia is also an unexplained phenomenon, but owing to the fact that Daniel is completely defenseless, no longer fully realizes where he is (after taking the Amnesia potion) and that he is being followed by what appears to be an intangible mass of darkness, it is apparent that the dark is worth fearing. Justine, the protagonist of the expansion Amnesia: Justine, on the other hand, does not lose sanity by standing in the dark, so it can be assumed that she does not have nyctophobia.

In both the game and the expansion, staring at enemies reduces sanity and warps the player's vision. This is most likely due to the frightening and grotesque hideousness of the enemies, coupled with the fact of increasing fear for the player character that they will be spotted.

When inside in any of the rooms with piles of corpses in the Morgue, or in any of the six torture chambers found in the Transept and Choir, sanity is slowly drained, even when standing near lights or having the Lantern out (albeit at an even slower rate). These rooms will trigger a continuous ringing sound similar to a church bell. The sanity loss here is most likely caused by both the presence of the dead bodies or torture devices and the bad memories related to them - which would make sense, as Daniel feels horrible guilt for his wrongdoings to the captured victims during the events of the game. Besides the guilt, the dark and somber energy produced by the room may simply have a negative spiritual effect on Daniel's mind.

Some areas of the game will produce enemies in the form of a hallucination, which will vanish once close enough to the player. Some hallucinations are caused only by low sanity while traveling in specific zones. This shows that once the player character's mind reaches a low sanity state, thus subject to increased fear, the character's mind is unintentionally capable of creating experiences that in themselves serve to increase the level of fear.

In Hard Mode, because sanity reaching the lowest point results in death, it is possible Daniel suffers from an assumed heart attack or death from the impact of falling. It could also be inferred that while Daniel is unconscious, the Gatherers have killed him in his incapacitated state.

Sanity gain[]

Highsanity glow

The enemy glow effect appears only when sanity is high enough.

The gaining of sanity is much less explained than the loss of it. Sanity can only be gained by solving puzzles, making progress, and standing in lighted areas with no disturbing events occurring for some amount of time. The most likely explanation is that the player character regains their confidence in the situation, knowing that they have stepped further toward intended goals and temporarily taken control of some fear because of that.

There is an item called a Sanity Potion that can raise sanity by one level for each potion bottle consumed, but was cut from the final release of the game's levels, but can still be obtained by using a map editor and in some community-made stories.


  • Daniel has nyctophobia, an intense fear of the dark, and cannot endure even a short sojourn in a dark room or passageway. The darkness will drain his sanity even when there are sources of light in the distance.
  • A common myth is that staring at the enemies causes them to realize they are being watched and eventually locate Daniel. This is NOT the case, however. No amount of prolonged staring will cause the enemies to detect Daniel faster.
    • The in-game hint that states staring at the enemies will cause them to find you were only added to add extra fear for the player; no such mechanic is in the final game.
    • Technically, this is still possible, although in an indirect manner: looking at an enemy drains sanity, so if the player's sanity is already very low, looking at an enemy for too long will completely drain sanity, causing the player to collapse and the enemy to be alerted.
  • Contrary to popular belief, when sanity is fully depleted and Daniel drops to the floor, he does NOT lose any health. However, this does alert enemies.
  • Daniel's sanity will not decrease when he experiences flashbacks. However, all other sources of sanity drain still apply, including looking at enemies.
  • Unlike Daniel, Justine does not lose sanity due to darkness. Only when looking at a Suitor or at the end of her test in the Crypt, whilst walking in the blood-ridden corridors, will she lose sanity, but even then at a very slow rate. This may have been purposely put in by Frictional Games, as there is no oil to be found in the Cabinet of Perturbation, nor does the lantern have any oil, to begin with, and Justine's options to light anything are limited to five tinderboxes, which would make certain areas involving being stealthy in the darkness (such as escaping from Basile) much more difficult if she lost sanity at Daniel's rate.
    • If Justine goes into "..." sanity, her heavy breathing and teeth chattering are identical to Daniel's.
  • Walking at least 4 "steps" from a candlelit table will cause sanity to decrease.
  • If Daniel's sanity is quite low, on rare occasions the screen goes red, and he can hear the Shadow roaring at him at several places in the game.
  • Mandus's ability to hide in darkness without repercussion in A Machine for Pigs implies he does not have nyctophobia like Daniel. He also does not lose sanity by staring at enemies, by witnessing disturbing events, by his children's ghosts, nor by the taunts of the Machine, implying he has a much more stable mental condition compared to the former two, which may diegetically explain why maintaining his sanity is not a system in that game.


  • The developers of Amnesia: The Dark Descent, according to an interview with Thomas Grip, intentionally created the game with no mechanical effect on hiding from monsters, from simply having low Sanity.[4] The game leaves the mechanical impact of low Sanity unclear to allow the player to make inferences about potential consequences of neglecting the Sanity system and create fear for themselves through their own imagination.
  • A previous game series also made by Frictional Games, Penumbra, had an actual game mechanic when staring at enemies. Though the Penumbra games did not have a sanity meter, staring at enemies would increase the player's chance of being detected, whereas staring at them too long would eventually cause the character to panic and stand up after being stealthily crouched.
    • It is likely that this very mechanic inspired the intentionally misleading hint that looking at an enemy will cause the player to "eventually be seen".
  • The concept of sanity meters "controlling game effects, audio effects, creating hallucinations and the like" is patented by Nintendo, the publishers of Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem.[citation needed] Amnesia's sanity system is implemented in much the same way as in Eternal Darkness, with the characters' sanity decreasing upon being spotted by monsters and witnessing disturbing events, causing unsettling, reality-warping effects on the player's screen.
  • Popular perception of the grinding sounds that play during episodes of Sanity loss in The Dark Descent is that they are supposed to be Daniel's teeth. Developer Jens Nilsson has confirmed, however, that the sound is not intended to be that of teeth grinding.[5]
    • The sound files are named "sanity_flick", and sound more like cracking or snapping.


  1. McAllister, D; Stubbs, D. "Six Elements That Make For A Quality Survival Horror Game". Accessed 1 April 2024. Published 3 March 2015. The Federalist, FDRLST Media.
  2. Amnesia: The Dark Descent source code: LuxPlayerHelpers.cpp, line 147
  3. Amnesia: The Dark Descent source code: LuxEnemy.cpp, line 827
  4. "How Amnesia: The Dark Descent Tricked Players Into Scaring Themselves | War Stories | Ars Technica" [Video]. Accessed 1 April 2024. Published 16 April 2019. Ars Technica, Youtube.
  5. "Well, it's not supposed to be grinding teeth, that's for sure." jens. Accessed 21 October 2022. Published 5 September 2010. Frictional Games Forum, forum.frictionalgames.