A single visual stimulus activates neurons in many different cortical areas. A major challenge in cortical physiology is to understand how the neural activity in these numerous active zones leads to a unified percept of the visual scene. The anatomical basis for these interactions is the dense network of connections that link the visual areas. Within this network, feedforward connections transmit signals from lower-order areas such as V1 or V2 to higher-order areas. In addition, there is a dense web of feedback connections which, despite their anatomical prominence, remain functionally mysterious. Here we show, using reversible inactivation of a higher-order area (monkey area V5/MT), that feedback connections serve to amplify and focus activity of neurons in lower-order areas, and that they are important in the differentiation of figure from ground, particularly in the case of stimuli of low visibility. More specifically, we show that feedback connections facilitate responses to objects moving within the classical receptive field; enhance suppression evoked by background stimuli in the surrounding region; and have the strongest effects for stimuli of low salience.