Low-angle normal faults (LANF), typically regarded as accommodating crustal or lithospheric extension, may also form during lithospheric shortening. The best-studied system of syn-contractional LANFs is the South Tibetan detachment system, a network of low-angle normal sense faults and shear zones that formed coevally with and parallel to south-vergent thrusts during lithospheric shortening accompanying development of the Himalayan orogen. In the eastern Himalaya, there are several across-strike exposures of the South Tibetan detachment system. We present new structural and thermometry data from the eastern Himalaya that demonstrate that the South Tibetan detachment system cannot have formed as a single progressive structure. We characterize and distinguish two distinct structural and tectonic components within the currently recognized system: (1) an extensive diffuse, sheared layer that formed the boundary between strong upper crust and weak, southward-flowing middle crust, and (2) a network of brittle-ductile LANFs that locally exhume, partly excise and overprint the earlier mylonite zone at the topographic break between the Himalayan orogen and the Tibetan plateau. The sheared layer, not a LANF, formed the boundary between upper and middle crust during ductile flow of the middle crust and is extensively exposed in the Himalaya at the base of klippen of upper crustal rocks preserved in Bhutan, along the crest of the Himalaya where it has been excised and exhumed by the brittle-ductile extrusion LANFs, and bounding the cores of the North Himalayan gneiss domes.