Progressive loss of the ascending dopaminergic projection in the basal ganglia is a fundamental pathological feature of Parkinson's disease. Studies in animals and humans have identified spatially segregated functional territories in the basal ganglia for the control of goal-directed and habitual actions. In patients with Parkinson's disease the loss of dopamine is predominantly in the posterior putamen, a region of the basal ganglia associated with the control of habitual behaviour. These patients may therefore be forced into a progressive reliance on the goal-directed mode of action control that is mediated by comparatively preserved processing in the rostromedial striatum. Thus, many of their behavioural difficulties may reflect a loss of normal automatic control owing to distorting output signals from habitual control circuits, which impede the expression of goal-directed action.