Microorganisms control key biogeochemical pathways, thus changes in microbial diversity, community structure and activity can affect ecosystem response to environmental drivers. Understanding factors that control the proportion of active microbes in the environment and how they vary when perturbed is critical to anticipating ecosystem response to global change. Increasing supplies of anthropogenic nitrogen to ecosystems globally makes it imperative that we understand how nutrient supply alters active microbial communities. Here we show that nitrogen additions to salt marshes cause a shift in the active microbial community despite no change in the total community. The active community shift causes the proportion of dormant microbial taxa to double, from 45 to 90%, and induces diversity loss in the active portion of the community. Our results suggest that perturbations to salt marshes can drastically alter active microbial communities, however these communities may remain resilient by protecting total diversity through increased dormancy.