Withdrawal from doctoral education has been recognized as a problem with negative consequences for different actors, leading researchers worldwide to explore its underlying factors and processes. However, even if many PhD candidates who withdrew intend to re-enrol, there is a gap in the literature regarding the factors and processes related to re-enrolment. The aim of this qualitative study is to understand pre- and post-withdrawal experiences of PhD candidates and the factors and processes related to withdrawal, dropout and re-enrolment, through the voices of PhD candidates who withdrew and faculty in social and health sciences in a Portuguese university. Our findings conceptualize withdrawal as a behavioural manifestation of disengagement processes comprising interacting emotional/affective, cognitive, and behavioural dimensions, which start before withdrawal, extend beyond it, and may culminate in dropout or re-engagement and re-enrolment. Factors and processes related to withdrawal, dropout, or re-enrolment were situated in various nested contexts. This study highlights the need for an academic cultural change, to envisage withdrawal as a process that does not necessarily mark the end of PhD candidates’ incursion into doctoral education. It draws attention to the need to provide adequate working conditions for PhD candidates, and also to promote follow-up and communication with PhD candidates who withdrew.