The formation of the Tibetan plateau during the India-Asia collision remains an outstanding issue. Proposed models mostly focus on the different styles of Tibetan crustal deformation, yet these do not readily explain the observed variation of deformation and deep structures along the collisional zone. Here we use three-dimensional numerical models to evaluate the effects of crustal rheology on the formation of the Himalayan-Tibetan orogenic system. During convergence, a weaker Asian crust allows strain far north within the upper plate, where a wide continental plateau forms behind the orogeny. In contrast, a stronger Asian crust suppresses the plateau formation, while the orogeny accommodates most of the shortening. The stronger Asian lithosphere is also forced beneath the Indian lithosphere, forming a reversed-polarity underthrusting. Our results demonstrate that the observed variations in lithosphere deformation and structures along the India-Asia collision zone are primarily controlled by the strength heterogeneity of the Asian continental crust.