Ecological systems are vulnerable to irreversible change when key system properties are pushed over thresholds, resulting in the loss of resilience and the precipitation of a regime shift. Perhaps the most important of such properties in human-modified landscapes is the total amount of remnant native vegetation. In a seminal study Andrén proposed the existence of a fragmentation threshold in the total amount of remnant vegetation, below which landscape-scale connectivity is eroded and local species richness and abundance become dependent on patch size. Despite the fact that species patch-area effects have been a mainstay of conservation science there has yet to be a robust empirical evaluation of this hypothesis. Here we present and test a new conceptual model describing the mechanisms and consequences of biodiversity change in fragmented landscapes, identifying the fragmentation threshold as a first step in a positive feedback mechanism that has the capacity to impair ecological resilience, and drive a regime shift in biodiversity. The model considers that local extinction risk is defined by patch size, and immigration rates by landscape vegetation cover, and that the recovery from local species losses depends upon the landscape species pool. Using a unique dataset on the distribution of non-volant small mammals across replicate landscapes in the Atlantic forest of Brazil, we found strong evidence for our model predictions - that patch-area effects are evident only at intermediate levels of total forest cover, where landscape diversity is still high and opportunities for enhancing biodiversity through local management are greatest. Furthermore, high levels of forest loss can push native biota through an extinction filter, and result in the abrupt, landscape-wide loss of forest-specialist taxa, ecological resilience and management effectiveness. The proposed model links hitherto distinct theoretical approaches within a single framework, providing a powerful tool for analysing the potential effectiveness of management interventions.