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Mystique is a metamorph in the X-Men franchise.

When she imitates another person, does she need to actively maintain her transformation? Does she need to concentrate or at least think of being like the person she imitates, in order not to turn back to her natural form?

Furthermore, if she can transform into anyone and stay so without any effort - e.g. even while asleep or unconscious - then how does she even know what her natural form is?

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    As I recall, in the first movie she reverted when wolverine stabbed her, so I'd guess that she does have to keep it up. – Kevin Nov 30 '11 at 19:30
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    I'd go further on Kevin's comment and say that unconsciously she can probably maintain an appearance while sleep (much as you'll continue breathing while asleep) but that the stab in the gut was such a shock that it interrupted her meta-morph form, much as jumping into very cold water might cause you to reflexively inhale sharply and hold your breath. – Xantec Nov 30 '11 at 19:33
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    Also in X-Men first class, when she is lifting weights, Magneto remarks how she won't be able to fully train if she spends half of her concentration on keeping her form. – Jack B Nimble Nov 30 '11 at 19:34
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Historically, she has reverted to her natural form when she has been rendered unconscious, or when she's suffered severe trauma (this may have changed recently, I haven't kept up with the comics).

She does seem to be able to maintain her form while sleeping.

This leads me to believe that her shapeshifting is less like tensing a muscle or concentrating and more like breathing or holding your bowels - it does require some degree of focus, but she has mastered that focus so completely that she maintains it reflexively.

This IS something that can be trained and learned (as any parent can tell you) and it's only reasonable that she would have enough practice to be able to do it.

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