Ding was originally engaged to Cao Cao's daughter Princess Qinghe, but Cao Cao's second son Cao Pi opposed the marriage, by saying that Ding had an eye illness. Eventually, Princess Qinghe was married to Xiahou Mao instead. Ding Yi was a close advisor to Cao Cao's fourth son Cao Zhi and was known to be a cultured and refined scholar. He was often trying to persuade Cao Cao to make Cao Zhi his successor in place of Cao Pi. However, Cao Pi eventually won his father's favour and was installed as the successor.
After the death of Cao Cao in 220, Cao Pi usurped the throne and put an end to the Han Dynasty, which only existed in name. Following that, Ding Yi and his entire family were executed.
In Luo Guanzhong's historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms', Cao Zhi did not attend his father's funeral. Enraged, Cao Pi sent a messenger to inquire the reason. Ding Yi said to the messenger that Cao Zhi should be the new ruler instead. He was killed afterwards on Cao Pi's orders.