Silicon (Si) is one of the most abundant elements on Earth, and it is the most widely used semiconductor. Despite extensive study, some properties of Si, such as its behaviour under dynamic compression, remain elusive. A detailed understanding of Si deformation is crucial for various fields, ranging from planetary science to materials design. Simulations suggest that in Si the shear stress generated during shock compression is released via a high-pressure phase transition, challenging the classical picture of relaxation via defect-mediated plasticity. However, direct evidence supporting either deformation mechanism remains elusive. Here, we use sub-picosecond, highly-monochromatic x-ray diffraction to study (100)-oriented single-crystal Si under laser-driven shock compression. We provide the first unambiguous, time-resolved picture of Si deformation at ultra-high strain rates, demonstrating the predicted shear release via phase transition. Our results resolve the longstanding controversy on silicon deformation and provide direct proof of strain rate-dependent deformation mechanisms in a non-metallic system.