The DNA damage response (DDR) is activated upon DNA damage generation to promote DNA repair and inhibit cell cycle progression in the presence of a lesion. Cellular senescence is a permanent cell cycle arrest characterized by persistent DDR activation. However, some reports suggest that DDR activation is a feature only of early cellular senescence that is then lost with time. This challenges the hypothesis that cellular senescence is caused by persistent DDR activation. To address this issue, we studied DDR activation dynamics in senescent cells. Here we show that normal human fibroblasts retain DDR markers months after replicative senescence establishment. Consistently, human fibroblasts from healthy aged donors display markers of DDR activation even three years in culture after entry into replicative cellular senescence. However, by extending our analyses to different human cell strains, we also observed an apparent DDR loss with time following entry into cellular senescence. This though correlates with the inability of these cell strains to survive in culture upon replicative or irradiation-induced cellular senescence. We propose a model to reconcile these results. Cell strains not suffering the prolonged in vitro culture stress retain robust DDR activation that persists for years, indicating that under physiological conditions persistent DDR is causally involved in senescence establishment and maintenance. However, cell strains unable to maintain cell viability in vitro, due to their inability to cope with prolonged cell culture-associated stress, show an only-apparent reduction in DDR foci which is in fact due to selective loss of the most damaged cells.