Internal brain states form key determinants for sensory perception, sensorimotor coordination and learning. A prominent reflection of different brain states in the mammalian central nervous system is the presence of distinct patterns of cortical synchrony, as revealed by extracellular recordings of the electroencephalogram, local field potential and action potentials. Such temporal correlations of cortical activity are thought to be fundamental mechanisms of neuronal computation. However, it is unknown how cortical synchrony is reflected in the intracellular membrane potential (V(m)) dynamics of behaving animals. Here we show, using dual whole-cell recordings from layer 2/3 primary somatosensory barrel cortex in behaving mice, that the V(m) of nearby neurons is highly correlated during quiet wakefulness. However, when the mouse is whisking, an internally generated state change reduces the V(m) correlation, resulting in a desynchronized local field potential and electroencephalogram. Action potential activity was sparse during both quiet wakefulness and active whisking. Single action potentials were driven by a large, brief and specific excitatory input that was not present in the V(m) of neighbouring cells. Action potential initiation occurs with a higher signal-to-noise ratio during active whisking than during quiet periods. Therefore, we show that an internal brain state dynamically regulates cortical membrane potential synchrony during behaviour and defines different modes of cortical processing.