Background: People with activity limitations participate less in society, which may be due to both societal barriers and personal factors. The aim of this study was to examine the role of one specific personal factor, namely the perceptions that people have of their health condition. We hypothesized that perceptions of more personal control and less negative consequences increase the likelihood of participation in social activities and of experiencing autonomy in participation. Methods: Survey data of 1681 people with activity limitations participating in a Dutch nationwide panel-study were analyzed by means of logistic and linear regression analyses. Perceptions of the health condition were assessed with the revised Illness Perception Questionnaire (IPQ-R). Social participation was operationalized as doing volunteer work, participating in club activities and meeting friends. Two scales of the Impact on Participation and Autonomy questionnaire were used to assess experienced autonomy regarding participation. Results: People who perceived more personal control over their health condition were more likely to participate in volunteer work (OR = 1.36) and club activities (OR = 1.35). People who believed their condition to be long-lasting were also more likely to do volunteer work (OR = 1.34), whereas people who reported a better understanding of their condition were more likely to frequently meet friends (OR = 1.19). Perceptions of the health condition explained 14% of the variance in experienced autonomy in participation, in addition to the severity of participants' activity limitations and their age, gender and education level. Especially a belief in more serious consequences, a perception of a long-lasting and less controllable condition, a perception of less understanding of the condition and a greater perceived impact on the emotional state were associated with experiencing less autonomy in participation. Conclusions: People with activity limitations who experience less control over their condition participate less in volunteer work and club activities than people who experience more control. Perceptions of the health condition are just as important to explain differences in participation as the severity of people's activity limitations and their socio-demographic characteristics. Health and social care professionals should pay attention to people's perceptions, to help people with activity limitations to participate according to their needs, circumstances, and preferences.