Although plant invasions are often associated with disturbance, localized disturbances can promote invasion either by: (i) creating sites where individuals establish; or (ii) enabling an invader to colonize the entire stand. The former is expected when both establishment and survival to reproductive age require disturbed conditions, whereas the latter should occur in systems when either establishment or survival are limited to disturbed sites. We investigated the role of localized disturbance, specifically treefalls, in the invasion of the Asian Rubus phoenicolasius in a deciduous forest in Maryland, USA. We investigated the density and demography of R. phoenicolasius in treefall gaps of various sizes, but identical age to non-gap areas, using Classification and Regression Tree (CART) analyses to identify the most important predictors. To explore how the demography of established individuals responds to disturbed versus undisturbed conditions, we carried out a garden experiment with three different levels of shade (5, 12 and 22% full sun). We found vegetative and sexual reproduction, and seedling establishment, to be limited to large gaps in an old stand, but not in a stand in an earlier age of succession. However, in the garden experiment, established plants were able to survive and grow under all shade treatments. These findings indicate that R. phoenicolasius requires disturbances such as treefalls to establish in forests, but established plants will survive canopy closure, leading to stand-wide invasion. Managers should be able to prevent invasion, however, by inspecting large gaps for new recruits every 3 years.