late 14c., desolacioun, "sorrow, grief, personal affliction;" c. 1400, "action of laying waste, destruction or expulsion of inhabitants;" from Old French desolacion (12c.) "desolation, devastation, hopelessness, despair" and directly from Church Latin desolationem (nominative desolatio), noun of action from past-participle stem of desolare "leave alone, desert," from de- "completely" (see de-) + solare "make lonely," from solus "alone" (see sole (adj.)).
Meaning "condition of being ruined or wasted, destruction" is from early 15c. Sense of "a desolated place, a devastated or lifeless region" is from 1610s.