Unlike previous work on the vertical integration–performance relationship, we investigate the performance consequences of vertical disintegration. We offer a theoretical justification for the disintegration decision and we condition the disintegration effect on performance on the initial degree of firm integration, the timing and the direction of disintegration. Using a sample of UK manufacturing firms and controlling for disintegration endogeneity, we find that disintegration eventually results in improved operating performance, particularly when disintegration occurs as a reaction to poor performance and in cases of forward between-sector disintegration. However, being highly integrated does not guarantee gains from disintegration. The implications of these findings are discussed. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.