The exceptionally preserved fossils entombed in the deposits of sediment-gravity flows in the Cambrian Burgess Shale of British Columbia have been fundamental for understanding the origin of major animal groups during the Cambrian explosion. More recently, they have been used to investigate the evolution of community structure; however, this assumes that the fossil assemblage represents an in-life community. Here we test this assumption for the first time based on experimental and field approaches. We use flume experiments to create analogue flows and show that transport of the polychaete Alitta virens over tens of kilometres does not induce significantly more damage beyond that already experienced due to normal decay processes. Integration of experimental results with taphonomic assessment of fossils and sedimentological analysis suggests that the organisms of the Burgess Shale in the classic Walcott Quarry locality could have undergone substantial transport and may represent a conflation of more than one community.