1. Demographic rates are shaped by the interaction of past and current environments that individuals in a population experience. Past environments shape individual states via selection and plasticity, and fitness-related traits (e.g. individual size) are commonly used in demographic analyses to represent the effect of past environments on demographic rates. 2. We quantified how well the size of individuals captures the effects of a population's past and current environments on demographic rates in a well-studied experimental system of soil mites. We decomposed these interrelated sources of variation with a novel method of multiple regression that is useful for understanding nonlinear relationships between responses and multicollinear explanatory variables. We graphically present the results using area-proportional Venn diagrams. Our novel method was developed by combining existing methods and expanding upon them. 3. We showed that the strength of size as a proxy for the past environment varied widely among vital rates. For instance, in this organism with an income breeding life history, the environment had more effect on reproduction than individual size, but with substantial overlap indicating that size encompassed some of the effects of the past environment on fecundity. 4. This demonstrates that the strength of size as a proxy for the past environment can vary widely among life-history processes within a species, and this variation should be taken into consideration in trait-based demographic or individual-based approaches that focus on phenotypic traits as state variables. Furthermore, the strength of a proxy will depend on what state variable(s) and what demographic rate is being examined; that is, different measures of body size (e.g. length, volume, mass, fat stores) will be better or worse proxies for various life-history processes.