The retinae of cats were surgically detached for 1/2 hr to 14 months, and the outer nuclear (ONL) and outer plexiform layers (OPL) were studied by light and electron microscopy. The longer the duration or the greater the height of detachment the more likely was the occurrence of cell death. Histologic signs of degeneration were present 1 hr after detachment. The number of photoreceptor nuclei in the ONL decreased significantly by 1 month. Loss of cells in the ONL occurred by necrosis and by the migration of photoreceptor cell bodies into the subretinal space. The OPL degenerated by the necrosis of cell processes and synaptic terminals and by the retraction of the synaptic terminals. By 2 weeks most synaptic terminals were necrotic or in the process of retracting. Photoreceptor synaptic contact with second order neurons was diminished by 30 days and was essentially absent by 50 days. Müller cells proliferated and hypertrophied; their nuclei and cell processes filled the intraretinal spaces left by the degenerating photoreceptors. In addition, Müller cells protruded into the subretinal space and formed multiple layers of cell bodies and processes between the retina and retinal pigment epithelium. By 14 months these subretinal Müller cell processes covered the entire detached retina, and appeared morphologically like an astroglial scar. Similar changes in human retinal detachments may significantly influence the degree of visual recovery after retinal reattachment, especially in retinae detached for more than a few days.