Desertification is a change in soil properties, vegetation or climate, which results in a persistent loss of ecosystem services that are fundamental to sustaining life. Desertification affects large dryland areas around the world and is a major cause of stress in human societies. Here we review recent research on the drivers, feedbacks, and impacts of desertification. A multidisciplinary approach to understanding the drivers and feedbacks of global desertification is motivated by our increasing need to improve global food production and to sustainably manage ecosystems in the context of climate change. Classic desertification theories look at this process as a transition between stable states in bistable ecosystem dynamics. Climate change (i.e., aridification) and land use dynamics are the major drivers of an ecosystem shift to a “desertified” (or “degraded”) state. This shift is typically sustained by positive feedbacks, which stabilize the system in the new state. Desertification feedbacks may involve land degradation processes (e.g., nutrient loss or salinization), changes in rainfall regime resulting from land-atmosphere interactions (e.g., precipitation recycling, dust emissions), or changes in plant community composition (e.g., shrub encroachment, decrease in vegetation cover). We analyze each of these feedback mechanisms and discuss their possible enhancement by interactions with socio-economic drivers. Large scale effects of desertification include the emigration of “environmental refugees” displaced from degraded areas, climatic changes, and the alteration of global biogeochemical cycles resulting from the emission and long-range transport of fine mineral dust. Recent research has identified some possible early warning signs of desertification, which can be used as indicators of resilience loss and imminent shift to desert-like conditions. We conclude with a brief discussion on some desertification control strategies implemented in different regions around the world.