The photoelectric detector is a very significance part in laser and its application system, but when photoelectric detector irradiated by high energy laser, the laser may cause thermal damage to the photoelectric detector, when the temperature more than its melting point and vaporization point, there will be a permanent damage in PIN photodetector, leading to the failure of photoelectric detector. In order to study the photodiode damage mechanism by millisecond pulse laser irradiation, a set of experimental system has been built, choosing appropriate pulsed laser parameters to irradiate silicon-based PIN photodiode and monitoring the surface temperature in the process of irradiation, until the PIN photodiode complete failure. The measurement results of real-time temperature, responsivity change and damage morphology were analyzed to conclude the failure reason of the PIN photodiode. The results showed that with the increase of laser energy, the PIN photodiode surface temperature would be also increased accordingly. Before the laser irradiation, the responsivity of PIN photodiode was the same. But after the laser irradiation, the responsivity of the PIN photodiode would be changed and with the increase of laser energy, the decline extent of responsivity would be also increased. Judging from the ablation, crack and fold zone on the surface of PIN photodiode after the laser irradiation, the damage was for thermal stress effect. The continuity of material confined its free expansion. Therefore, the uneven thermal expansion induced the great thermal stress. At the same time, the silicon transited from brittle to ductile and the yield strength dramatically decreased. Once the maximum thermal stress exceeded the critical stress, the plastic deformation and the brittle cracks of silicon would be generated. With the increase of laser energy, the thermal stress damage extent of PIN photodiode would be also increased accordingly and the black area of laser ablation would be also larger. In this paper, the damage mechanism of silicon-based PIN photodiode irradiated by millisecond pulse laser is that the thermal stress causes the phenomena of ablation, fold and responsivity change. The conclusions have a vital significance in improving the performance of PIN photodiode in the field of laser application.