Spontaneous stereotypic behaviour (SB) is common in many captive animal species, as well as in humans with some severe psychiatric disorders, and is often cited as being related to general basal ganglia dysfunction. Despite this assertion, there is little in the literature examining SB specifically in terms of the basal ganglia mechanics. In this review, we attempt to fill this gap by offering an integrative, cross-domain perspective of SB by linking what we currently understand about the SB phenotype with the ever-growing literature on the anatomy and functionality of the basal ganglia. After outlining current models of SB from different theoretical perspectives, we offer a broad but detailed overview of normally functioning basal ganglia mechanics, and attempt to link this with current neurophysiological evidence related to spontaneous SB. Based on this we present an empirically derived theoretical framework, which proposes that SB is the result of a dysfunctional action selection system that may reflect dysregulation of excitatory (direct) and inhibitory (indirect and hyperdirect) pathways as well as alterations in mechanisms of behavioural switching. This approach also suggests behaviours that specifically become stereotypic may reflect inbuilt low selection threshold behavioural sequences associated with early development and the species-specific ethogram or, low threshold behavioural sequences that are the result of stress-induced dopamine exposure at the time of performance.