Pathways of formation and temporal evolution of the diffuse dielectric barrier discharge at atmospheric pressure were experimentally studied in this work by means of optical (fast imaging camera) and electrical diagnostics. The chosen model system is relevant for applications of plasma-enhanced chemical vapor deposition of thin silica-like film on the polymeric substrate, from cost-efficient gas mixtures of Ar/N2/O2/ hexamethyldisiloxane. It was found that the discharge can gradually experience the phases of homogeneous low current Townsend-like mode, local Townsend to glow transition and expanding high current density (~0.7 A cm-2) glow-like mode. While the glow-like current spot occupies momentarily only a small part of the electrode area, its expanding behavior provides uniform treatment of the whole substrate surface. Alternatively, it was observed that a visually uniform discharge can be formed by the numerous microdischarges overlapping over the large electrode area. © 2009 IOP Publishing Ltd.