Atomic-scale, tribo-ceramic films associated with dissipative structures formation are discovered under extreme frictional conditions which trigger self-organization. For the first time, we present an actual image of meta-stable protective tribo-ceramics within thicknesses of a few atomic layers. A mullite and sapphire structure predominates in these phases. They act as thermal barriers with an amazing energy soaking/dissipating capacity. Less protective tribo-films cannot sustain in these severe conditions and rapidly wear out. Therefore, a functional hierarchy is established. The created tribo-films act in synergy, striving to better adapt themselves to external stimuli. Under a highly complex structure and non-equilibrium state, the upcoming generation of adaptive surface engineered nano-multilayer materials behaves like intelligent systems - capable of generating, with unprecedented efficiency, the necessary tribo-films to endure an increasingly severe environment.