The charge density wave (CDW) material 1T-TaS$_2$ exhibits a pulse-induced insulator-to-metal transition, which shows promise for next-generation electronics such as memristive memory and neuromorphic hardware. However, the rational design of TaS$_2$ devices is hindered by a poor understanding of the switching mechanism, the pulse-induced phase, and the influence of material defects. Here, we operate a 2-terminal TaS$_2$ device within a scanning transmission electron microscope (STEM) at cryogenic temperature, and directly visualize the changing CDW structure with nanoscale spatial resolution and down to 300 {\mu}s temporal resolution. We show that the pulse-induced transition is driven by Joule heating, and that the pulse-induced state corresponds to nearly commensurate and incommensurate CDW phases, depending on the applied voltage amplitude. With our in operando cryo-STEM experiments, we directly correlate the CDW structure with the device resistance, and show that dislocations significantly impact device performance. This work resolves fundamental questions of resistive switching in TaS$_2$ devices critical for engineering reliable and scalable TaS$_2$ electronics.

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