Mortgage markets will take two years to recover from the credit squeeze, Iain Cornish, chairman of the Building Societies Association (BSA) has said.
And even when recovered, they will be very different to the early years of this decade, Mr Cornish said.
However, a "more sensible mortgage market" should return in the longer term, the BSA's Mr Cornish added.
The credit crunch has led to a rapid shrinking of the mortgage market as lenders find it harder to raise funds.
Even so, the credit squeeze has not caused building societies as much pressure as banks.
Mr Cornish's comments are part of a speech he is due to deliver later on Thursday.
Mr Cornish said that building societies - which raise a chunk of funds from depositors - do not have the same reliance on wholesale funding as some of the major mortgage banks or Northern Rock did before it hit trouble.
Building societies benefited from the crisis at Northern Rock, with many customers moving their savings to societies.
In turn, their share of net lending has risen from 19% in the first three months of 2007 to 25% in the same period of 2008 - and they are continuing to lend.
"Clearly we entered troubled waters in a fundamentally sound vessel," Mr Cornish said.
"Societies generally are well capitalised, highly liquid and prudent businesses."
He will add that it was impossible to predict a year ago that the markets would be "stood on their head".
The impact of issues such as liquidity, confidence and credit on the wider economy will soon be seen and could be the "most decisive phase" for the industry, he will say.
However, Mr Cornish believes that building societies are not immune to the liquidity crisis and credit crunch and will have to adapt.
And he welcomes the recent move by the Bank of England to allow banks and building societies to swap potentially risky mortgage debts for secure government bonds to help them operate during the credit squeeze.
"It will not in itself solve the credit crisis, it certainly isn't going to reverse all the changes in lending policies we have seen in recent months, or restore mortgage lending to its former levels, but it should help to underpin confidence.
"It is vital for the Bank of England to remain very close to what is happening in markets, and it should not hesitate to intervene further and extend the facility if that is what is needed."