Advanced imaging methods now allow cell-type-specific recording of neural activity across the mammalian brain, potentially enabling the exploration of how brain-wide dynamical patterns give rise to complex behavioural states1-12. Dissociation is an altered behavioural state in which the integrity of experience is disrupted, resulting in reproducible cognitive phenomena including the dissociation of stimulus detection from stimulus-related affective responses. Dissociation can occur as a result of trauma, epilepsy or dissociative drug use13,14, but despite its substantial basic and clinical importance, the underlying neurophysiology of this state is unknown. Here we establish such a dissociation-like state in mice, induced by precisely-dosed administration of ketamine or phencyclidine. Large-scale imaging of neural activity revealed that these dissociative agents elicited a 1-3-Hz rhythm in layer 5 neurons of the retrosplenial cortex. Electrophysiological recording with four simultaneously deployed high-density probes revealed rhythmic coupling of the retrosplenial cortex with anatomically connected components of thalamus circuitry, but uncoupling from most other brain regions was observed-including a notable inverse correlation with frontally projecting thalamic nuclei. In testing for causal significance, we found that rhythmic optogenetic activation of retrosplenial cortex layer 5 neurons recapitulated dissociation-like behavioural effects. Local retrosplenial hyperpolarization-activated cyclic-nucleotide-gated potassium channel 1 (HCN1) pacemakers were required for systemic ketamine to induce this rhythm and to elicit dissociation-like behavioural effects. In a patient with focal epilepsy, simultaneous intracranial stereoencephalography recordings from across the brain revealed a similarly localized rhythm in the homologous deep posteromedial cortex that was temporally correlated with pre-seizure self-reported dissociation, and local brief electrical stimulation of this region elicited dissociative experiences. These results identify the molecular, cellular and physiological properties of a conserved deep posteromedial cortical rhythm that underlies states of dissociation.