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Brain imaging studies of English past tense inflection have found dissociations between regular and irregular verbs, but no coherent picture has emerged to explain how these dissociations arise. Here we use synthetic brain imaging on a neural network model to provide a mechanistic account of the origins of such dissociations. The model suggests that dissociations between regional activation patterns in verb inflection emerge in an adult processing system that has been shaped through experience-dependent structural brain development. Although these dissociations appear to be between regular and irregular verbs, they arise in the model from a combination of statistical properties including frequency, relationships to other verbs, and phonological complexity, without a causal role for regularity or semantics. These results are consistent with the notion that all inflections are produced in a single associative mechanism. The model generates predictions about the patterning of active brain regions for different verbs that can be tested in future imaging studies.