Multipotent precursors are plastic cells that generate different, stable fates at the correct number, place and time, to allow tissue and organ formation. While fate determinants are known to trigger specific transcriptional programs, the molecular pathway driving the progression from multipotent precursors towards stable and specific identities remains poorly understood. Here we demonstrate that, in Drosophila neural precursors, the glial determinant glial cell missing (Gcm) acts as a 'time bomb' and triggers its own degradation once the glial programme is stably activated. This requires a sequence of transcriptional and post-transcriptional loops, whereby a Gcm target first affects the expression and then acetylation of the fate determinant, thus controlling Gcm levels and stability over time. Defective homeostasis between the loops alters the neuron: glia ratio and freezes cells in an intermediate glial/neuronal phenotype. In sum, we identify an efficient strategy triggering cell identity, a process altered in pathological conditions such as cancer.