Many biologically important processes, such as genetic differentiation, the spread of disease, and population stability, are affected by the (natural or enforced) subdivision of populations into networks of smaller, partly isolated, subunits. Such "metapopulations" can have extremely complex dynamics. We present a new general model that uses only two functions to capture, at the meta-population scale, the main behavior of metapopulations. We show how complex, structured metapopulation models can be translated into our generalized framework. The metapopulation dynamics arising from some important biological processes are illustrated: the rescue effect, the Allee effect, and what we term the "antirescue effect." The antirescue effect captures instances where high migration rates are deleterious to population persistence, a phenomenon that has been largely ignored in metapopulation conservation theory. Management regimes that ignore a significant antirescue effect will be inadequate and may actually increase extinction risk. Further, consequences of territoriality and conspecific attraction on metapopulation-level dynamics are investigated. The new, simplified framework can incorporate knowledge from epidemiology, genetics, and population biology in a phenomenological way. It opens up new possibilities to identify and analyze the factors that are important for the evolution and persistence of the many spatially subdivided species.