The dihedral dynamics of butane in water is known to be rather insensitive to the water viscosity; possible explanations for this involve inertial effects or Kramers’ turnover, the finite memory time of friction, and the presence of so-called internal friction. To disentangle these factors, we introduce a method to directly extract the friction memory function from unconstrained simulations in the presence of an arbitrary free-energy landscape. By analysis of the dihedral friction in butane for varying water viscosity, we demonstrate the existence of an internal friction contribution that does not scale linearly with water viscosity. At normal water viscosity, the internal friction turns out to be eight times larger than the solvent friction and thus completely dominates the effective friction. By comparison with simulations of a constrained butane molecule that has the dihedral as the only degree of freedom, we show that internal friction comes from the six additional degrees of freedom in unconstrained butane that are orthogonal to the dihedral angle reaction coordinate. While the insensitivity of butane’s dihedral dynamics to water viscosity is solely due to the presence of internal friction, inertial effects nevertheless crucially influence the resultant transition rates. In contrast, non-Markovian effects due to the finite memory time are present but do not significantly influence the dihedral barrier-crossing rate of butane. These results not only settle the character of dihedral dynamics in small solvated molecular systems such as butane, they also have important implications for the folding of polymers and proteins.