Populations occurring in similar habitats and displaying similar phenotypes are increasingly used to explore parallel evolution at the molecular level. This generally ignores the possibility that parallel evolution can be mimicked by the fragmentation of an ancestral population followed by genetic exchange with ecologically different populations. Here we demonstrate such an ecological vicariance scenario in multiple stream populations of threespine stickleback fish divergent from a single adjacent lake population. On the basis of demographic and population genomic analyses, we infer the initial spread of a stream-adapted ancestor followed by the emergence of a lake-adapted population, that selective sweeps have occurred mainly in the lake population, that adaptive lake-stream divergence is maintained in the face of gene flow from the lake into the streams, and that this divergence involves major inversion polymorphisms also important to marine-freshwater stickleback divergence. Overall, our study highlights the need for a robust understanding of the demographic and selective history in evolutionary investigations.