Alkali pretreatment is a promising pretreatment technology that can effectively deconstruct plant cell walls to enhance sugar release performance. In this study, multi-scale visualization of dynamic changes in poplar cell walls during sodium hydroxide pretreatment (2% w/v, 121°C) was carried out by light microscopy (LM), confocal Raman microscopy (CRM) and atomic force microscopy (AFM). LM observations indicated that swelling occurred primarily in the secondary wall (S) but alkali had little effect on the cell corner middle lamella (CCML). Correspondingly, there was a preferential delignification in the S at the beginning of pretreatment, while the level of delignification in CCML (~88%) was higher than that in the S (~83%) for the whole process revealed by Raman spectra. It also suggested that prolonging residence time to 180 min would not remove lignin completely but cause rapid loss of carbohydrates, which was further visualized by Raman spectroscopy images. Furthermore, AFM measurements illustrated that pretreatment with alkali exposed the embedded microfibrils from noncellulosic polymers clearly, enlarged the diameter of microfibrils, and decreased the surface porosity. These results suggested that there was a synergistic mechanism of lignocellulose deconstruction regarding cell wall swelling, main components dissolution, and microfibril morphological changes that occurred during alkali pretreatment.