Traumatic axonal injury (TAI) may contribute greatly to neurological impairments after traumatic brain injury, but it is difficult to assess with conventional imaging. We quantitatively compared diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) signal abnormalities with histological and electron microscopic characteristics of pericontusional TAI in a mouse model. Two DTI parameters, relative anisotropy and axial diffusivity, were significantly reduced 6 h to 4 d after trauma, corresponding to relatively isolated axonal injury. One to 4 weeks after trauma, relative anisotropy remained decreased, whereas axial diffusivity “pseudo-normalized” and radial diffusivity increased. These changes corresponded to demyelination, edema, and persistent axonal injury. At every time point, DTI was more sensitive to injury than conventional magnetic resonance imaging, and relative anisotropy distinguished injured from control mice with no overlap between groups. Remarkably, DTI changes strongly predicted the approximate time since trauma. These results provide an important validation of DTI for pericontusional TAI and suggest novel clinical and forensic applications.