She was exiled to her planet's past by Zor Kahn because members of her family tried to kill this tyrannical leader of her planet. She was transported to a barren Sarpeidon Ice Age by use of the atavachron, a time portal. She was provided with weapons, food and shelter and as her punishment, was to live out the remainder of her existence alone and unable ever to return to her time.
Spock and Leonard McCoy of the USS Enterprise accidentally entered Zarabeth's time era when they attempted to follow Kirk through the atavachron. While seeking shelter in the frozen waste, they encountered her and she led them to safety. As McCoy recovered from their ordeal, Spock learned that they were "trapped" 5,000 years in the past and, as a result, began to emotionally regress to that time, which was before Vulcans had suppressed their emotions. Zarabeth, suffering from loneliness, told Spock that they could not return to their own time but was unaware that Spock and McCoy had not been "prepared" by the atavachron as she was. McCoy, noticing the growing attraction between Spock and Zarabeth, and finding Spock more than willing to stay put, accused her of deceiving them to persuade Spock to remain with her. An emotional outburst ensued and shocked Spock back to reality. Zarabeth eventually conceded to knowing only that she could never go back and sadly agreed to lead them to the portal. Spock, still reluctant to leave her behind, finally summoned the will to do so when they heard Kirk's voice. They eventually found their way back and in the emotional closing dialog, Spock acknowledged the painful realization that Zarabeth had been dead for 5,000 years.