DTAS is a segmented total absorption y-ray spectrometer developed for the DESPEC experiment at FAIR. It is composed of up to eighteen NaI(Tl) crystals. In this work we study the performance of this detector with laboratory sources and also under real experimental conditions. We present a procedure to reconstruct offline the sum of the energy deposited in all the crystals of the spectrometer, which is complicated by the effect of NaI(Tl) light-yield non-proportionality. The use of a system to correct for time variations of the gain in individual detector modules, based on a light pulse generator, is demonstrated. We describe also an event-based method to evaluate the summing-pileup electronic distortion in segmented spectrometers. All of this allows a careful characterization of the detector with Monte Carlo simulations that is needed to calculate the response function for the analysis of total absorption gamma-ray spectroscopy data. Special attention was paid to the interaction of neutrons with the spectrometer, since they are a source of contamination in studies of beta-delayed neutron emitting nuclei.