Photosystem II (PSII) uses solar energy to oxidize water and delivers electrons for life on Earth. The photochemical reaction center of PSII is known to possess two stationary states. In the open state (PSIIO), the absorption of a single photon triggers electron-transfer steps, which convert PSII into the charge-separated closed state (PSIIC). Here, by using steady-state and time-resolved spectroscopic techniques on Spinacia oleracea and Thermosynechococcus vulcanus preparations, we show that additional illumination gradually transforms PSIIC into a light-adapted charge-separated state (PSIIL). The PSIIC-to-PSIIL transition, observed at all temperatures between 80 and 308 K, is responsible for a large part of the variable chlorophyll-a fluorescence (Fv) and is associated with subtle, dark-reversible reorganizations in the core complexes, protein conformational changes at non-cryogenic temperatures and marked variations in the rates of photochemical and photophysical reactions. The build-up of PSIIL requires a series of light-induced events generating rapidly recombining primary radical pairs, spaced by sufficient waiting times between these events - pointing to the roles of local electric-field transients and dielectric relaxation processes. We show that the maximum fluorescence level, Fm, is associated with PSIIL rather than with PSIIC, and thus the Fv/Fm parameter cannot be equated with the quantum efficiency of PSII photochemistry. Our findings resolve the controversies and explain the peculiar features of chlorophyll-a fluorescence kinetics, a tool to monitor the functional activity and the structural-functional plasticity of PSII in different wild-type and mutant organisms and under stress conditions.