We review the emerging applications of functional and structural neuroimaging techniques for the assessment of patients with disorders of consciousness. Measurements of brain function from patients in the vegetative state (VS) and minimally conscious state (MCS) are compared, and a conceptual organization is developed that suggests models of brain mechanisms associated with different functional levels of recovery. We emphasize developing strategies to place complex brain injuries on a more equal footing using global and regional quantification of resting or activated brain activity using functional imaging techniques alongside more detailed structural assessments of neuronal integrity and axonal connectivity now available. Preliminary studies from several investigative groups suggest that some MCS patients may harbor a functional reserve in the form of recruitable cerebral networks. These findings support developing systematic characterizations of the severely injured brain and suggest that some patients may benefit from improved diagnostic assessments.