Insufficient understanding of the mechanism that reversibly converts sulphur into lithium sulphide (Li2S) via soluble polysulphides (PS) hampers the realization of high performance lithium-sulphur cells. Typically Li2S formation is explained by direct electroreduction of a PS to Li2S; however, this is not consistent with the size of the insulating Li2S deposits. Here, we use in situ small and wide angle X-ray scattering (SAXS/WAXS) to track the growth and dissolution of crystalline and amorphous deposits from atomic to sub-micron scales during charge and discharge. Stochastic modelling based on the SAXS data allows quantification of the chemical phase evolution during discharge and charge. We show that Li2S deposits predominantly via disproportionation of transient, solid Li2S2 to form primary Li2S crystallites and solid Li2S4 particles. We further demonstrate that this process happens in reverse during charge. These findings show that the discharge capacity and rate capability in Li-S battery cathodes are therefore limited by mass transport through the increasingly tortuous network of Li2S / Li2S4 / carbon pores rather than electron transport through a passivating surface film.