Beta diversity is an important concept used to describe turnover in species composition across a wide range of spatial and temporal scales, and it underpins much of conservation theory and practice. Although substantial progress has been made in the mathematical and terminological treatment of different measures of beta diversity, there has been little conceptual synthesis of potential scale dependence of beta diversity with increasing spatial grain and geographic extent of sampling. Here, we evaluate different conceptual approaches to the spatial scaling of beta diversity, interpreted from ‘fixed’ and ‘varying’ perspectives of spatial grain and extent. We argue that a ‘sliding window’ perspective, in which spatial grain and extent covary, is an informative way to conceptualize community differentiation across scales. This concept more realistically reflects the varying empirical approaches that researchers adopt in field sampling and the varying scales of landscape perception by different organisms. Scale dependence in beta diversity has broad implications for emerging fields in ecology and biogeography, such as the integration of fine-resolution ecogenomic data with large-scale macroecological studies, as well as for guiding appropriate management responses to threats to biodiversity operating at different spatial scales.