Variation within species is an often-overlooked aspect of community ecology, despite the fact that the ontogenetic structure of populations influences processes right up to the ecosystem level. Accounting for traits at the individual level is an important advance in the implementation of trait-based approaches in understanding community structure and function. 2. We incorporate individual- and species-level traits into one succinct assemblage structure metric, fractional size, which is calculated as the length of an individual divided by its potential maximum length. We test the implementation of fractional size in demersal fish assemblages along a depth gradient in the deep sea. We use data from an extensive trawl survey at depths of 300–2030 m on the continental slope of the Rockall Trough, Northeast Atlantic, to compare changes in fractional size structure along an environmental gradient to those seen using traditional taxonomic and trait-based approaches. 3. The relationship between fractional size and depth was particularly strong, with the overall pattern being an increase with depth, implying that individuals move deeper as they grow. Body size increased with depth at the intraspecific and assemblage levels. Fractional size, size structure and species composition all varied among assemblages, and this variation could be explained by the depth that the assemblage occupied. 4. The inclusion of individual-level traits and population fractional size structure adds to our understanding at the assemblage level. Fractional size, or where an individual is in its growth trajectory, appears to be an especially important driver of assemblage change with depth. This has implications for understanding fisheries impacts in the deep sea and how these impacts may propagate across depths.