How to improvise without thinking about scales

So one thing I don't understand is how improvisation works ( on the guitar ). I mean I know the pentatonic scale and I can come up with random licks when listening to a backing track. But when it comes to a 7 note scale i am completely lost. I can't memorize all the patterns ( like on the pentatonic scale ) and therefore i cannot use it. So my question really is: what does it really mean to know a scale? Does it mean that you remembered all the patterns and you can visualize them all over the neck? Does it mean that you know all the notes on the fretboard and the ones in the scale? Do you have to think about the patterns constantly ( which btw I can't imagine and I don't think that's how scales should be approached )? How are there so many players that just don't think about a single shape on the neck and yet they are "magically" in key ?

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