- The physical processes governing the onset of yield, where a material changes its shape permanently under external deformation, are not yet understood for amorphous solids that are intrinsically disordered. Here, using molecular dynamics simulations and mean-field theory, we show that at a critical strain amplitude the sizes of clusters of atoms undergoing cooperative rearrangements of displacements (avalanches) diverges. We compare this non-equilibrium critical behaviour to the prevailing concept of a ‘front depinning’ transition that has been used to describe steady-state avalanche behaviour in different materials. We explain why a depinning-like process can result in a transition from periodic to chaotic behaviour and why chaotic motion is not possible in pinned systems. These findings suggest that, at least for highly jammed amorphous systems, the irreversibility transition may be a side effect of depinning that occurs in systems where the disorder is not quenched.